Double negatives

Sometimes, as a blogger, something will be on my mind that I can’t quite articulate – something that stops me from being able to write about much else, but that I can’t actually seem to formulate an opinion on, let alone a cohesive blog post – and then some internet storm will slot right in and unlock a response from me which allows me to express what has been weighing on my mind.

A few things have been happening lately.

For one, I’ve been reluctant to post anything about fitness or nutrition as it feels increasingly futile to try and convince people that fads are fads, and/or that eating and training in a way that makes your life easier and more fun is OK. It had become painfully apparent that nobody wants to take responsibility for their own wellbeing, and that changing one’s own attitude towards one’s body is irrelevant if only one could just lose that belly fat once and for all, so that we in fact crave another fad diet so we can hand over the reins. Then, if we follow it all and don’t succeed, we can blame somebody else – and if we don’t follow every instruction to the letter, then we can retreat into self-loathing until the next miracle leaps out of the magazine rack.

For another, there seem to be two types of blogger*: those who rant and rave against everything with varying degrees of vitriol aimed at specific individuals or schools of thought, and those whose lives seem to be blissfully filled with rainbows and fluffy kittens and energising food and sparkles and love. As somebody who is distinctly neither of these, who loves nothing more than a good rant in which I can let my cynicism roam free and wild, but who also recognises that this is a big wide virtual world and that if I don’t like something I can just click away from it in an instant, I struggle to find a reason to write these days.

Who really wants to hear just another “grey” opinion from somebody who comfortably swaddled in disclaimers about how this is just a personal opinion and a personal blog? What we want is drama!

*There are, of course, enough notable exceptions for me to spend far too much time reading blog posts – see my blogroll on the righthand side or drop me an email for some recommendations (I wouldn’t want to get corny praising people too much on here, especially as I don’t know them in person and might creep them out)

On the fitness side of things, Ben is currently drafting up a guest post about negativity in the fitness industry. If you are a personal trainer, do you sometimes feel weird telling clients that what they’re doing is just fine? “You got stressed at work and ate a packet of biscuits? Never mind, we’ve all been there – don’t worry, just focus on dealing with the stress at the moment. As long as you stay active and make sure you’re still getting in the vitamins and minerals you need, it’s no big deal.” I know I have caught myself wondering if I should be more hardline with my clients. And if you have a personal trainer, would you trust them and their expertise if they told you that? Or would you feel safer being told, “How did that ever seem like a good idea? Where did I put a packet of biscuits in your diet plan? We’d better add some intervals in this session to burn off the extra calories then! And cut out the carbs for the next few days to make up for it too.“?

But it’s not just the fitness industry that is suffering from this pressure to fall into one of two camps (at the risk of not being taken seriously if you are overtly content with life). The types of online vegans I have encountered have very much been split in a similar way. I have been noticing it increasingly over the last year or so, and then HerbiFit wrote about “The Non-Compassionate Vegan” and asked the very valid question; do vegans need to be compassionate towards everyone, including non-vegans?

Personally, I have instinctively chosen the compassionate route. While I am a big fan of raging against the machine (or against anything I can, really), because vegans are generally misconstrued as judgemental extremists that nobody can identify with, I believe it helps to bridge the gap by offering patient advice and, more importantly, cake.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t associate in any friendly way with anyone who was overtly racist or sexist, so why should I happily welcome speciesism? But if you choose to reject company or friendship on the basis of a person’s speciesism, is that going to help win them over to veganism? I can’t help but point out that humans are animals too, and I think it would be hypocritical to practise compassion towards all non-human animals and not humans.

So I will choose to be compassionate and lead by example rather than by intimidation. BUT there is now another debate. Fat Gay Vegan angrily highlighted the hypocrisy of two vegans opening a vegetarian restaurant serving dairy. I haven’t visited his Facebook page as I hear the debate is raging and I know I would get stuck reading through comments for hours, but basically on the one side you have those who agree that it is outrageous, and on the other you have those who say something along the lines of preferring to see a vegetarian restaurant promoting meat-free eating with perhaps some vegan options, than no vegetarian restaurant at all.

I think the most subtly articulated post I have read on the topic is from Charlie Bit My Tofu. Without naming or shaming or blaming, Charlie convincingly puts the argument forward for vegans to distance themselves from vegetarians. I had never actually thought about this before, but it’s such a valid point. I know plenty of vegetarians who would eat gelatine-based sweets or rennet-based cheeses; I don’t know any vegan who would knowingly consume cochineal or would ignore whey powder at the bottom of an ingredients list. Vegans commit to a lifestyle that often means researching ingredients and by-products, educating themselves, preparing for outings by packing just-in-case snacks or calling restaurants ahead of time. Vegetarians know that they can always rely on a meat-free option, and that they can easily tell where meat is present on their plate. So it is up to vegans to demand more from vegetarian and almost-vegan eateries. Omnivores will most likely not choose to dine at a vegetarian or a vegan restaurant or café; whereas vegetarians will usually frequent either. So it is up to vegans to support the vegan businesses and to make their voices heard!

I think the important thing to remember is that two wrongs don’t make a right – so just because some moron is trying to persuade yet another wave of insecure individuals that their physique isn’t quite sexually appealing enough to random strangers sharing a beach with them on their next holiday, and that here are the seven steps to achieving it (one of which usually involves entering your credit card details), or because some stranger on the internet has given up being vegan because they were found to be anaemic and didn’t have the resources to make a sensible decision to remedy it, it doesn’t mean that calling them all sorts of names or getting all passive-aggressive is going to make any positive difference.

I will be compassionate to all beings who deserve my compassion or, more specifically, those who do not deserve my wrath, but I will raise my voice when someone needs to speak out. This means this blog will continue to be mainly a positive space – nobody needs to be taught how to be gratuitously negative on the internet – but faced with an issue related to animal welfare or yet another unhealthy and unwelcome diet and exercise trend slithering its way into the headlights, I am not about to start pulling my punches. That just wouldn’t be my style.