Category Archives: Politics & Current Affairs

Everyone Deserves Respect, Dignity & Autonomy—Sex Workers Included

A usually well-respected defense lawyer, Susan Necheles, today engaged in a so-called “sluts and nuts” defense of her client, Donald Trump, in his current hush-money trial. She painted Stormy Daniels as wacky and not credible by querying Ms. Daniels about her spiritual practices on the stand. Even worse, she branded Ms. Daniels as insincere when she said she had felt scared and anxious on the night she and Trump had sex. She implied that Daniels’ expression of fear over thinking she was in a situation in which her safety and career could be compromised if she didn’t agree to sex with Trump was unbelievable.

And that’s disgusting.

Trump is accused of paying Ms. Daniels $130,000 to keep silent about a sexual encounter they had nearly two decades ago. While such payoffs are not necessarily illegal, paying off someone to hide information that could materially affect public opinion during a presidential campaign is. So is lying about that to the federal government.

Ms. Daniels made clear that she never intended to have sex with Trump. She thought had been invited for dinner and a talk—two entertainment professionals having a discussion that might lead to a business deal. Perhaps he’d offer her a stint on Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice TV show. She even teased him when she showed up and he was in silky pajamas, and told him to go get dressed—which he did before they talked for two hours.

Ms. Daniels asked if he was always so rude as to show up for dinner in pajamas, and not even have any food to feed her? She teased him, shaming him into getting dressed in something other than a satin robe. When he constantly interrupted her answers to his many questions, she asked him if he was always so self-absorbed. She thought she’d set a tone that showed she was in control of herself, and capable of setting boundaries and setting him straight when he treated her without respect and dignity. It seemed to be going well.

Trump and Ms. Daniels talked about work and families. The then-60-year-old man said three times that his then-27-year-old guest reminded him of his daughter Ivanka—both were beautiful, smart, and not given the respect they deserved.

But after two hours of talk, when she excused herself to use the bathroom, she walked out to find Trump in his underwear on a bed, looking at her, obviously ready and waiting to have sex with her. Her stomach dropped. She worried what the bodyguard would do if she said no. Would the bodyguard let her leave? Would Trump? What would happen to her career? She’d not wanted to go dinner with Trump in the first place, but only did so because her manager had said it could be a good career move to talk with him, and “What could go wrong?”

Lawyer Necheles acted incredulous that the famous Stormy Daniels wouldn’t be willing to have sex with just anybody at any time. How could she of all people be anxious when a large, powerful, famous man with a big bodyguard just outside the door made it clear that he expected her to give in to him? Necheles acted as if it were unbelievable that Ms. Daniels, then a married woman who had worked as an exotic dancer and a porn movie star, should have any compunction over, preferences about, or fear for her safety when faced with an potential sex partner whom she hadn’t chosen or approved. A man famous for having sex with lots of young women. A man who had determined that Ms. Daniels was regularly tested for STDs, but who had no such proof of his own to offer about his health.

Necheles acted as if every sex worker is just a careless and worthless person with no right to respect, dignity, or physical autonomy. No need to be concerned for her health and safety. No reason to say no to a married man over twice her age who expected her to do whatever he wanted—and who didn’t even wear a condom during their encounter.

No one should EVER feel pressured into a sexual situation with anyone. Not even a (supposed) billionaire with fame, power, and a reputation as a litigious bully (which he had even back then).

Ms. Daniels says she was not raped, and not forced to have sex. But the power imbalance between her and Trump was huge. Their age imbalance was enormous. The amount of respect Trump got as the star of a popular TV show vs. the respect Stormy got as a woman who had sex on camera for money was vastly different. Ms. Daniels says she went along with his wishes, but that she felt numb, that she dissociated, that she asked herself how’d she’d gotten herself in that situation. She was shaking so much afterward that she had trouble putting her boots back on to leave. Because she’s a human being who felt shame for being in a situation that scared her, and humiliation for thinking that she mattered to Trump as more than a sex toy.

If a person isn’t interested in having sex, says no, asks to stop at any time, or was willing in the past but is no longer, it legally makes no difference whether that person is one’s wife or a X-rated movie star. Pressuring anyone sexually is wrong, regardless of career, personal experience, number of partners, or current relationship. The idea that someone who has sex as part of her job should be totally without preferences about partners, fear about unwanted encounters, or concern or say over who uses her body, is repugnant. And using such a defense in court is outrageous.

Recognizing the Humanity in Our Enemies

Aw, look at the cheerful, playful, lighthearted colleagues laughing together! They’re just taking a few minutes off from their jobs—they oversaw prisoners at Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi death camp, in 1944. Yes, the happy folk in the uniforms are literal Nazis, members of the Schutzstaffel (aka the SS) taking a break from classifying, torturing, perhaps even killing the sick and terrified people whose lives they oversaw. Because even fascists and their apologists can be happy and have fun sometimes.

These smiling staff members were human, so they were naturally multifaceted, and even had some good qualities. Hey, even Hitler loved his dogs. The noted aviator and aeronautical designer Charles Lindbergh was brave and inspiring—but also a fascist sympathizer and appeaser. Coco Chanel was a groundbreaking fashion designer and style maker—who knowingly romanced, lived with, and spied for a powerful German diplomat during World War II. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an activist and the namesake of his civil rights champion father, started his career as a respected environmentalist. But now he takes money from (and spews anti-scientific anti-vax rhetoric supported by) far-right American millionaires who also bankroll Trump. Former game show host Donald Trump himself makes many people laugh, shout, and feel excited about America—and regularly praises and says he wants to emulate dictators who imprison, torture, and murder their own people.

But it’s important to remember that people who do such things are still human. If we fully demonize and refuse to engage with those whose goal is to oppress and kill us, and show no respect to those who love them, we can’t get through to the millions of independent voters who are on the fence. If you demonize and dehumanize them, you fail to show them how people of good will can see and honor the humanity in those who disagree. You risk making yourself look like an ugly, irrational opponent. And you make compromise with dignity harder.

If you paint your opposition as less than human, you give strength and a rallying point to your enemies. Nobel Prize-winning diplomats like Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu made this clear, many times. Their ability to help long-term foes find common ground and face each other as human beings deserving of respect allowed them to broker peace and reconciliation deals that had long been inconceivable beforehand.

That doesn’t mean we should ever let down our guard, trust would-be oppressors or their apologists to have our best interests at heart, or fail to fight their dangerous, dehumanizing rhetoric and efforts to gain power. We must use every tool against their actions that the law allows.

And we can’t refuse to fight or take sides against our internal enemies just because their opposing candidates aren’t perfect. Lofty ideals sound lovely, but when a would-be dictator is at the door pointing an AK-47 at you and telling you how he looks forward to dismantling your democracy with his fascist friends, you don’t wait for Superman and Wonder Woman to show up. You push back, you support the candidates who are least objectionable, and you fight like hell to keep the fascists out of power.

Pragmatism is called for in such circumstances. Being “pure” and refusing to vote for a less inspiring (or even mediocre) candidate is no virtue when the alternative is a vote for a candidate who is an active danger to democracy. Nor does refusing to vote keep you clean in such a political environment. Refusing to vote is still a choice, and that choice has consequences, up to and including allowing the election of a dangerous person by an active minority of people. Don’t let fatigue, boredom with the news, or a temptation to be passive let you give away your ability to keep fascists out of power.

It’s such a delicate balance, remembering the humanity of the opposition and understanding their appeal while not underestimating their strength, letting down our guard, or failing to stand strong against lies and fascists. But we MUST do these things. Because eternal vigilance really IS the price of liberty. 

Why Puberty Blockers Are Essential Healthcare Tools

Let’s talk about puberty blockers, an essential element of safe and successful gender-affirming care for transgender youth. Social media, politicians, and news outlets have shared a great deal of misleading information about what these drugs do, how they work, and whether they’re dangerous or reversible. This has even led some U.S. cities and regions to enact legislation against their use. Tragically, some localities have even established punitive measures against trans children and the parents who allow them this life-improving and sometimes even life-sustaining care. So let’s take a look at what they really are, how they really work, and why they’re such important mental and physical health tools for many trans kids. 

Puberty-blocking drugs don’t stop puberty for all time; they just stop it for right now. Their results are reversible. If kids stop using them, puberty resumes. There is no evidence that puberty blockers affect future fertility, though taking estrogen or testosterone with them may impact the ability to have children later.

Puberty blockers were approved by the FDA in 1993. According to Cedars Sinai Medical Centers, they’re considered very safe by the medical community. They may possibly affect height (they may delay growth-plate closure, which can lead to taller adult height), and may slightly lower bone density for some. But so far, research shows the effects to be minimal. Doctors and hospitals are required to provide detailed information about risks and downsides to children and their families before providing them with these medications. People with severe gender dysphoria (i.e., who feel their genders to be different that the one assigned to them at birth) usually feel that living in a body that feels more like them is worth being a little taller, or worth taking bone-strengthening minerals and drugs to avoid osteoporosis later in life.

When children feel strongly that their genders don’t match the ones assigned to them at birth, going through puberty can feel crushing and tragic—a permanent sign to the world to treat them as someone they know they’re not. According to the Mayo Clinic, puberty blocking drugs keep kids from going through major changes (some irreversible) like the development of breasts, body hair, and male genitalia; deepening of the voice; and menstruation.

To get rid of those signs, many people go through painful, expensive, and difficult surgery later. But there are certain things that happen to the body at puberty that may not be reversible even with surgery. Those who undergo surgery later often experience complications, pain, great expense, and all the risks that come with surgery and anesthesia. Yet they still don’t have physical outcomes as successful as they might have if given puberty blockers at the first signs of puberty.

Many trans children who go through puberty and see their bodies undergoing distressing, permanent changes suffer severe depression and other negative mental health challenges, according to the National Institutes of Health. Some engage in self-harm such as cutting, substance abuse, or suicide. If given access to puberty blockers, they can delay or stop many of those changes, buying them time until they’re adults and can decide legally how they want to present and identify themselves. Puberty blockers have been shown to significantly reduce depression and suicidality in trans children.

Puberty blockers have led to improved mental health, better social interactions with other kids, and sometimes avoidance of future gender-confirmation surgeries.

The physician information portal HCPLive (which is part of the MJH Life Sciences publishing company) writes, “Investigators said that previous data showed gender-affirming hormones (GAH), puberty blockers (PBs), and gender-affirming surgeries have been found to be independently associated with reduced depression, anxiety and additional adverse mental health outcomes. Puberty blockers administered during puberty can actually reduce suicide risk in this population. A decreased lifetime incidence of suicidal ideation was also found among adults who received access to puberty blockers during adolescence.”

In short, puberty blockers improve and even save lives. They don’t poison children, or take away their choices later. These drugs give children the freedom to delay major health and life choices until adulthood. They align physical and psychological health, and let children feel more like themselves. Providing them to children whose lives could be immeasurably improved—even saved—by them makes them an essential element of pediatric healthcare.

Avoid Bullies During (and After) the Holidays

[Originally published in November 2016.]

As the holidays approach, I’m reminded of multiple painful Thanksgiving dinners years ago during which I felt forced to spend time with a relative who repeatedly bullied me. She insulted me in my own house, picked fights with me in front of others and blamed me for actions I hadn’t taken, and for words I never said. Ultimately, I refused to be treated that way anymore, and stopped spending holidays with someone who insisted on telling lies about me and attacking me for things I didn’t do. Having to refuse to see her at holidays was very painful, but spending time with someone who claimed to love me yet also berated, insulted and lied to me and about me was worse.

If you find yourself in a situation in which you are dreading holidays because you fear that you will be insulted or attacked, or worry that you will feel trapped and helpless, remember: there is no rule that says you must be with other people at holiday time. We have all been told that spending a holiday alone is terrifying and awful, and that holiday solitude means we are bad or worthless, unloved or unloving. None of that is true.

If you dread the holidays because you fear you have no alternative but to walk into the lion’s den and be eaten, know that it is perfectly okay to stay home (or go away someplace) and celebrate the day in your own way. You can be thankful and be a good person even if you eat a bowl of soup by yourself or with only your partner or immediate family, then take yourself out to a movie. You can sleep in and catch up on your novel, or binge watch your favorite TV show, or listen to podcasts while you do puzzles, or take a long walk with your favorite dog. You can eat spaghetti instead of turkey. You always have options.

The biggest concern about opting out of powerfully painful social interactions is often about how others will view you afterwards: will they shun you, punish you, talk about you behind your back if you don’t attend? They might. Your refusing to attend an event could cause a family rift. Not attending Thanksgiving with your in-laws or sister or dad might mean getting angry phone calls about it later, so there is a trade-off and a risk of future pain. But if you are miserable being with other people because they treat you with contempt or disregard, is that a healthy dynamic to perpetuate? If they (or you) become abusive when provoked, especially in the current political climate when so many of us are fragile, thin-skinned and worried about the future, engaging with others in anger after one too many glasses of holiday wine could be not only emotionally but physically unsafe.

If being with a person, even one whom you love, makes you feel sick, sad, worthless, angry or frustrated and efforts to interact in a healthier way haven’t worked, clinging to that relationship even though it brings out the worst in you and others can be very damaging. Being unwilling to accept another’s bad behavior just because it comes from a family member does not make you monstrous. Avoiding abusive situations is just good self care.

Depression is often exacerbated over the holidays when we compare what we think we need to feel fulfilled with what seems to be available to us. We may be reminded of past hurts, losses, shame and regrets, and they may overwhelm our feelings of love, happiness or safety. If you fear that being with certain people is not safe for you and will bring on destructive feelings toward yourself (or them), remember: you don’t have to engage. You don’t have to attend events. You can have a quiet holiday on your own without falling apart. Others may respond with hurt feelings, and you may have to deal with your own feelings of guilt (often not deserved) if you prioritize your own mental health above placating those who cause you distress. But if you’re an adult, you do have a choice about where you spend your time and with whom. Please don’t put yourself or others in harm’s way.

British Beauty Tips Circa 1960

In 1908, Pathé invented the newsreel, a short-subject film  shown in cinemas prior to feature films. The Pathé Brothers of France owned the world’s largest film equipment and production company, and they saw the benefit of bringing news to life for moving picture fans and thus padding out an afternoon or evening’s cinematic entertainment. In the years before television, people grew to rely on newsreels during their weekly cinema visits to keep up with royal visits, war news, sports, fashion and celebrity events and travelogues that took them to far-away places.

Over time, many short subject films took on a nationalistic bent, and they were used as propaganda tools during World Wars I and II. Some showed women on the home front how to make do with rationed food and fabrics during and after World War II. Others showed teens at play, making them seem like laughable aliens, underscoring the generation gap that caused such rifts between teens and their parents in the 1950s and 1960s and played out in major culture clashes in both cinematic and real life.

News reels often depicted the people of other nations as quaint and exotic, and made women look like vain, silly, laughable lightweights. But they were wittily narrated, well-edited and often visually sumptuous, so they make for fascinating views into 20th century cultural history today.

Pathé short-subject films reached the height of their appeal in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s in Britain. Many of these shorts involve women being made to look foolish while demonstrating outlandish fashion or beauty trends and inventions, all accompanied by an orchestra playing a peppy tune and a wry male narrator making snappy sexist comments.

It’s always interesting to see how much effort has been put into inventing odd machinery to distract women, perpetuate stereotypes and keep women “in their place.” It still goes on today, of course, but now women’s voices are used to make the narrated hype more palatable and to seem more “empowering” and less demeaning.

Hatred of “The Other”—Our New Plague

Ireland’s Great Potato Famine

[Originally published in July 2018]
During Ireland’s Great Potato Famine of 1845-52, one out of every eight people in Ireland died of starvation or disease. The famine resulted in more than a million deaths. Because potatoes were the nation’s staple food, untold numbers were reduced to eating grass or nothing at all when every year’s potato crops failed. Those who ate the rotted potatoes pulled from the ground became ill. And yet, British landlords made peasant farmers gather their wheat crops and send them to Britain while the Irish became walking skeletons, or ceased to walk at all.

Many who could gather together enough money to leave came to America, resulting in nearly a million poor Irish immigrants arriving on American shores during the famine years alone. These huge masses of desperate, often uneducated Irish made up the first large migration of poverty-stricken people to the U.S. This caused an upswelling of nativist hatred, bigotry and violence toward the Irish that took decades to abate.

Back in Ireland, British landlords evicted the starving Irish farmers and sharecroppers from their modest huts and houses when they couldn’t supply the promised number of bushels of produce from blighted land. Landlords kicked starving children, disabled elderly people and everyone in between out of their homes. They took every grain away from dying Irish babies and threw families out into the harsh elements, where hundreds of thousands of children died.
 
Why? Because rich landowners convinced themselves that vulnerable people were worthless people, that affluence is next to godliness, that some people are just born dirty and disgusting and disposable.
 
We have recently seen men kidnap tiny victims of war, call their parents murderers and rapists, and send them back to the countries that killed their family members and threatened their lives. Powerful Americans prey on victims of war, legal asylum seekers. Poor, battered, sick and exhausted people offer themselves up to our mercy, thinking the great and powerful United States will keep them from dying. They think we will shelter them from the gangs that torture and murder their loved ones in their home countries. They hope to get jobs and work hard and have a chance to be safe and stop their nightmares. Because they thought we meant it when we said that our nation reveres liberty and justice for all.
 
Treating the Irish like nonentities was made easier by the prevalence of stereotypes of the Irish people as stupid, lazy, filthy, obscene, drunken, vulgar and subhuman. They were said not to care about their children the way good Christian English people did, not to mind eating rot, to be too drunk to be aware of their misery, to be innately drawn to sin. Many English (and Americans) were taught that the Irish had earned their state because they were depraved and unloved by God. Their Catholicism was considered vulgar, and was held up as one more reason to despise them. This anti-Irish sentiment followed the Irish to America, so even though many found opportunity here, acceptance was hard-won.
 
Now we hear so many of those same epithets and slanderous words flung at Mexicans and Central Americans and South Americans who are struggling just to stay alive. The Irish immigrants who flocked to American in the 1840s and 1850s would certainly recognize the degrading and dehumanizing words that spill out of our president’s mouth, and the rough and degrading treatment given to those who drag themselves here asking only to be given a chance to stay alive. 
 
This is how evil spreads—by determining that those who suffer must deserve their suffering, and that those in hard circumstances don’t feel or care or love as much as the affluent do. By turning away from our responsibility to help the most vulnerable among us, we stomp out compassion. By labeling the destitute and distraught as vermin, as innately criminal, as dirty, dangerous and bad for society, we propagate the rot.
 
We are spreading a new plague. We are setting our own destruction in motion.
 
Many currently in power preach that the poor are bad and undeserving, and that the foreign-born poor are even more depraved—dangerous, too. This is one of the roots of evil—this determination of the worth of human beings based on homelands or ethnicity.
 
For a few decades, we seemed to have gotten better about this. Most in the U.S. who still held filthy, bigoted thoughts (and there were many) knew to hide them in public. But the demons of prejudice and hate walk more openly among us now. They continue to spread the lies that some people are innately unworthy of concern, of help, even of life.
 
Why don’t we learn?

Laughing with Dr. King

MLK laughs
MLK laughing with Malcolm X, Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis, Jr., Coretta Scott King and others.

We often see photos of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., looking serious, dignified, even dour. But he was a man who loved to laugh and who had great joy in his heart. His short, determined life involved constantly facing down injustice and living with fear and struggle, sure—but he loved laughter and fun, good food and good music as much as anyone. He was a real, flesh and blood human being, not a stoic saint immune to the pain and difficulty around him. And I think that makes his devotion, determination and persistence all the more extraordinary, don’t you?

Happy MLK Day, everyone.

Let Them Eat French Fries

Yes, it’s true: Trump’s failure to plan ahead and provide hot food for the visiting Clemson Tigers last night is just a distraction. The fact that he had piles of stale, cooling food sitting on the table and as the White House butler lit candelabra around them is as nothing to the horrid things he does each day. The ridiculousness of having staff portion French fries out in tiny water cups with the Presidential seal on them is laughable, but not earth-shattering. The fact that this billionaire was so cheap that he wouldn’t even spring for a hot catered dinner, but made a proud point of serving his guests of honor cold fast food shouldn’t surprise us—it’s totally in keeping with his usual ways.

But we should note his total inability to tell the truth even in the most mundane and verifiable circumstances. To be so incredibly petty as to lie even about the number of hamburgers served, to feel the need for self-aggrandizement and lies in even the tiniest particulars, to say that “over a thousand” burgers were served when he only bought 300—if he did pay any of his own money at all—this is a constantly changing virtual reality that he manipulates in order to destabilize the world. We should never assume that he will be honest or do the right thing in any particulars, ever. We should assume that he will pull the whole world down to make a point if we let him.

Will we let him?

Allies Behind the Scenes: Early 20th Century Support for Gay Rights

Radclyffe Hall (right) and her lover Una Vincenzo with their dachshunds at the 1923 Crufts dog show. Photo: Harry Ransom Center

In 1928, British lesbian writer Radclyffe Hall’s novel The Well of Loneliness was published. It scandalized official British society, was decried as “a danger to the nation” and was eventually suppressed and censored for being a work of “obscene libel”—not because there was any actual description of lesbian sexual behaviors beyond a kiss and the most oblique mention of sharing a bed. Simply admitting that lesbianism existed was considered a scandalous act, and allowing a lesbian to share her thoughts on what it was like to experience romantic feelings for another woman caused official fear and outrage.

Happily, we now know that Radclyffe Hall received thousands of letters of support from people around the world, gay and straight, following the official ban placed on British publication of her work. That she kept those letters shows how deeply they moved her.
In every cultural moment there have always been those who supported inclusivity and acceptance. When they speak up and announce who they are to the world, or when they prove themselves to be allies, they give comfort and strength to those on the front lines of social change. Even if we don’t feel strong enough to be leaders or to profess our beliefs in public, we do a great service by giving support and encouragement behind the lines. Every good action moves the cause of justice forward.

Why Do People Hate Vegans?

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I’m always surprised when a meat eater shows me disrespect and derision when seeing that I choose not to eat meat. I frequently hear the trope that vegans and vegetarians are inherently self-absorbed and annoying to be around. Those who enjoy meat often write that vegans are preachy or difficult. But you know what? In 30 years as a lacto-ovo (dairy- and egg-eating) vegetarian, I’ve never come across that in person.
 
Yes, I’ve politely asked waiters to accommodate my needs. I’ve asked about alternatives to meaty preparations of dishes, and been disappointed when every vegetable dish, soup and salad on a large menu is prepared with meat or meat byproducts. But I have not glared at my tablemates, lectured people on their dietary choices or berated chefs. It is not rude or unreasonable for me (or a Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Seventh Day Adventist, keto-diet-follower, gluten-free diner, diabetic, GERD sufferer or anyone else) to ask politely for food that meets our particular needs.
 
I occasionally meet (and often read about) omnivores who see those of us with different culinary needs as being troublesome, inconvenient or even, somehow, threatening. Some have confided in me that they secretly feel squeamish when thinking about having animals killed for their meals, so they resent vegetarians for merely existing. They’re uncomfortable around people who avoid meat since our presence reminds them that the pink packages they purchase from the meat counter were once parts of living beings. Our existence proves that meat isn’t essential to health or happiness, and some sadly find that threatening to their comfort and traditions.
 
Shortly after I established Apple’s Vegetarian Club, I got a threatening anonymous message via intracompany mail. Why? Because I was so bold as to offer recipes and nutritional info and invite people to join me for lunch to discuss health and animal welfare. I didn’t publish polemics or accost people with speeches; I simply made information and encouragement available in a conference room once a month.
 
Over the five years during which I published Style With Substance, a newsletter of cruelty-free product news, I occasionally received hate mail telling me that I was going against God and nature by offering alternatives to cosmetics and household products that maimed and killed animals unnecessarily. Haters wrote that vegetarianism and a search to avoid animal cruelty were proof of my satanic and anti-Christian nature. But did I ever attack people for using makeup tested on rabbits or wearing leather jackets? Not once. I only offered alternatives to those who cared to find out about them. Did my newsletter include screeds or attacks on those with different views? Never. Indeed, I cautioned readers who wanted to contact companies to urge them to stop testing on animals to always be polite and respectful. But some people truly detest those of us who suggest that alternatives to the norm are possible and even beneficial.
 
My mother took my vegetarianism as an affront to her, though I never once put her down for eating meat or said that my choices made me superior. When she ate meat at the same table, I did not glare at or shame her. She chose to interpret my desire to live my life differently as equivalent to a slap in her face and a personal rejection of her. She decided it meant that I thought myself too good for her and her way of life—something I never said nor believed.
 
I’ve read that vegans can be pedantic and overly assertive and confrontational; in my 30 years as a vegetarian, I’ve never witnessed that happen in person. Not once. Do they exist? Sure; I’ve seen articles in which cranky vegans were quoted. I’ve been disgusted by the destructive, ugly, illegal antics of PETA and the Animal Liberation Front and other extremists who have sparked backlashes against gentler supporters of animal welfare. I’ve seen photos of confrontational vegans. But I have not met those people. I’ve met literally hundreds of vegans at vegetarian clubs, festivals and special events over the course of three decades, and made many more vegetarian and vegan friends in the course of a life lived in liberal communities near San Francisco, Seattle and Boston. If nasty vegans were truly so common, don’t you think I might have run across one?
 
I’ve also read and heard people whine that I must hate good food because I don’t eat meat or fish, but my vegetarian daughter and I are foodies who truly love fine dining, sophisticated preparations and presentations of beautifully prepared foods from all over the world. The mischaracterizations of those of us who simply, quietly don’t want to consume animals are common, and mystifying.
 
So why did and do people like Anthony Bourdain and Julia Child and Gordon Ramsay detest vegetarians so? Why do they judge our tastes and choices so harshly, assume that we are rude, tasteless, boorish or unsophisticated? Bourdain wrote, “Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food.” He described vegans as vegetarians’ “Hezbollah-like splinter faction.” He went on to say that vegetarians are a “persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn” and that “They make for bad travelers and bad guests. … [If] you’re unwilling to try things that people take so personally and are so proud of and so generous with, I don’t understand that, and I think it’s rude. … Being a vegan is a first-world phenomenon, completely self-indulgent.”
 
Julia Child said of vegetarians, “Personally, I don’t think pure vegetarianism is a healthy lifestyle. It’s more fear of food—that whole thing that red meat is bad for you. And then there are people who don’t eat meat because it’s against their morals. Well, there’s nothing you can do with people like that. I’ve often wondered to myself: Does a vegetarian look forward to dinner, ever?”
 
Gordon Ramsay, who recently said that he’s following a vegetarian diet himself, used to find it hilarious to hide meat in food prepared for vegetarians who made it clear that they do not wish to eat meat. He delighted in subverting the deeply held beliefs of people who find meat eating problematic for ethical or health or other reasons—something equivalent to sneaking bacon into an Orthodox Jew’s or an observant Muslim’s lunch, or forcing a Hindu to eat steak tartare, or refusing an allergic diner’s request that you leave out an ingredient out of sheer petty spite. It’s not just contemptible—it’s immoral.
 
The truly rude, inhospitable, judgmental and threatening people in this world tend not to be those concerned about eating animals. Those who tease me and tell me I’m oversensitive, stupid, rude or unsophisticated aren’t vegans. I don’t want to tease or attack meat-eaters; I don’t find derision, contempt or lack of respect for strongly held ethical beliefs amusing or acceptable for anyone. So please, before you tease another vegetarian, joke about hiding bacon in their food or roll your eyes if they ask whether there’s chicken stock in something, think again about how you’d feel to be mocked, chided and derided for living according to your private principles. Live and let live.
[Illustration: A Feast for the Eyes, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1590]