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Vegan Attitudes Toward Instinctive Eating


by Tom Billings
Copyright © 1997, 1998 by Thomas E. Billings. All rights reserved.
Contact author for permission to republish.

(Note: I am clearly labeling this article as opinion, in case some readers
recognize certain of the people whose actions are discussed herein.)

How do we see others--and what
does it say about ourselves?

Negative attitudes held by vegans.

As a former vegan for many years, and now a lacto-vegetarian, it's been my observation that some vegans have very negative, even hostile, attitudes toward the dietary philosophy known as "instinctive eating." In some cases this extends to disregard and disrespect for the individuals who practice instinctive eating themselves ("instinctos"), and not just the diet itself. People are entitled to their opinions, of course. The problem in this case, however, is that such attitudes conflict with the (often self-conscious) compassion that so many vegans claim is a central part of their dietary philosophy.

I am writing this to describe my personal journey, from my first view of instincto (a very negative view) to my current (mostly) favorable view. It is my hope that others will find this of interest, and perhaps can see themselves as being on a similar journey. Let's begin with the following.

Definition of instinctive eating:

A system of sequential mono-eating (one food at a time), guided by the senses. Food is selected by smell (and other senses), and one eats until there is a "signal" from their body to stop eating, e.g., a "taste change" (probably the primary signal used in instincto), a feeling of fullness/satiation, or strong emotions or thoughts arise. If still hungry after a taste change with one food, select another food by smell/senses, and repeat the process until no longer hungry.

Original foods. Instinctos limit their food choices to unprocessed, raw, "original" foods. Original foods are defined as those that were part of the human diet pre-fire/pre-agriculture: fruits, animal foods (meat, seafood, honey), nuts, and raw vegetables. Grains and dairy are excluded as they are products of agriculture. Instinctive eaters are usually non-vegetarian. However, some instinctos consume only very limited amounts of animal foods. (It's not unusual for new instinctos to be former vegans for whom the diet didn't work out, but who may be reluctant to add more than modest amounts of animal food to their diets if they are concerned about potential repercussions from eating too much of it. The motivations that attract people to instincto--if they are based in the desire to eat as "natural" a diet as possible--often run parallel to why someone might select veganism for similar reasons.)

The three stages of my own shift from hostility, to acceptance, of instincto.

Respect and tolerance for other individuals and diets.

Although most vegans will disagree with the instincto consumption of animal foods, there are other important issues here: respect and tolerance for others whose lifestyle is different from yours, and respect for their freedom of choice. Even if one opposes the consumption of animal foods, one should recognize that others have different views, and we must respect their choice, as well as their personal dignity and freedom. That is why the hateful, bigoted attacks on instinctos by certain vegans (discussed below) are so reprehensible.

What an understanding of instinctive
eating can offer other rawists

The philosophy of instinctive eating has a number of points that other raw-fooders might find of interest. A select few of these points are:

Vegan bigotry: referring to
Instinctos as "In-stinktos"

It has become popular in certain raw vegan circles (specifically, among certain fruitarian extremists) to refer to instinctos as "in-stinktos." This practice, in my opinion, is a clear form of bigotry and should stop. Here I am not critical of those who use the term once or twice in ignorance or by accident, but of those vegans who think it is fun to create and use a derogatory, insulting nickname for another dietary group. The deliberate, repeated use of "in-stinkto" is the moral equivalent of using a derogatory, insulting nickname for people who are of a different race. In the 1990s, such behavior is (or ought to be) socially unacceptable, just as racial epithets are stigmatized. It is surprising to me that vegans condone or tolerate such behavior by some in the vegan camp. Most vegans would not condone the use of hateful, insulting nicknames for other racial groups; why, then, do you (or would you) tolerate it when it is used against those in a different dietary group?

I would encourage vegans to let those who use such derogatory terms know that such behavior is not in line with the vegan principle of compassion.

I hope that this sheds some light on why vegan attacks on instincto are not appropriate. If you are a vegan with a negative view of instinctos, I also hope that you will analyze the reasons for your negativity, and consider the points above.

Appendix to Issue Version 2:
On compassion and (lack of) honesty in veganism

Attacks by a hostile fruitarian. Shortly after Issue 1 of the above material was posted on multiple email lists on Internet (August-September 1997), I became the target of vicious personal attacks by a hostile fruitarian. This extremist made the rather bizarre claim that compassion is not a valid part of veganism, and that veganism is based exclusively on the principle of animal liberation. The fruitarian then suggested that hostile behavior by vegans in attempting to promote their views or achieve their social objectives is perfectly acceptable, and in full accord with veganism. (Side note: If I were a hostile extremist in denial of reality, I too, would probably deny that my hostile behavior is anti-vegan!)

There are two major problems with the extremist claims.

Veganism requires not just compassion, but honesty, if it is to have ethical integrity.

The above illustrates that animal liberation implicitly depends on compassion, as animal liberation without compassion is meaningless. Hence the extremist attempt to evade criticism by claiming that compassion is not required for veganism is invalid, and--to all intents and purposes--intellectually dishonest as well.

As always, actions speak louder than words. Much the same reasoning applies with respect to behavior toward other human beings no matter what their dietary practice or philosophy. Intellectual honesty is just as essential as compassion when ethical integrity is at stake. Both are critical to how veganism is promoted (and perceived) when interacting with others on different dietary paths. If one's attitude reeks of hostility or disdainful superiority rather than compassion, or if the facts (about the actual, natural diet of humanity, for instance) or other reasons used in promoting veganism are presented dishonestly, then the ethical basis and credibility of veganism are undermined, not advanced. (Behavior in these areas speaks much louder than one's verbal rationale.)

Veganism is, then, in large part a system of diet where ethical considerations are central. Given that, it should be incumbent on those in the movement to recognize the need not only for compassion, but for basic honesty in promoting veganism, if its ethical stance is to be perceived as having any real integrity.

--Tom Billings

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