Part 1: Meat, Myself & Irony – From Carnism to Compassion
2015 West Bloomfield: Calm Water Publ.
I’m not a religious person – wouldn’t even call myself “spiritual” in any of the various ways that the word is defined – but I think that there is a lot of really good stuff in this book.
I met John Bussineau and Billie Bussineau a few weeks ago at a “Vegan Information Day” event in Temple Bar Square, Dublin. I said to John that I would be happy to review his book and, like all good authors, he had a copy in my hand within the hour! Sorry the review is a bit late John.
With the Dalai Lama’s perhaps ironic words rattling around in his head, “if you cannot help another, then at least do not harm them,” John’s moves toward veganism began in 2010 when his wife Billie threw down the “vegan gauntlet.” This was one of those 30-day vegan pledges, and Bussineau is very honest about his addiction to flesh and cheese – the “little cheese monkey” on his shoulder no less. He finally broke through, after battling his addiction to casomorphin, an issue I talked about with farming expert Harold Brown, HERE. Mediation helped and, relating to the radical transformation of a ruthless finger collecting serial killer called Angulimala who lived at the time of the Buddha, John declares that, “we can all change.”
There’s a lot for a sociologist in this book, for the power of culture is recognised as an obstacle to change. Raised as a Catholic, Bussineau says that ingrained social beliefs are like “an oil stain in cloth,” so stubborn that change needs courage - and yet it can be achieved.
As noted above, John Bussineau had a real struggle over his love for cheeses, and this is a common story that a lot of vegetarians relate. In terms of the dietary aspects of veganism, dairy cheese seems often to be the last rights-violating item to be cast aside. John takes this so seriously that he provides an “analytical meditation for cheese” in the book. These three pages are among the strongest and most moving in the whole text from a vegan animal rights point of view.
I confess that I had some misgivings about this work as soon as I saw reference to “carnism” in the subtitle and glossary. However, John’s frequent focus on dairy products successfully transcends the limitations in this concept which “naturally” pushes the focus onto the consumption of flesh, and away from the full manifestations of cultural speciesism.
Bussineau asks a pertinent question in his book: why aren’t Buddhists prime movers in the vegan movement? It’s a perfectly fair question. After all, he notes, “Buddhism is in direct opposition to exploitation of sentient beings. Veganism is on direct opposition to exploitation of sentient beings.” Perhaps this is just another indication of the vegan movement’s poor record in forging intersectional alliances with like-minded people? However, John tends to place the blame squarely within the confines of the Buddhist community, suggesting that, “the basic reasons are desire, wilful addiction, aversion, attachment and ignorance.” Strong and critical words indeed.
Bussineau argues that the overly human-centred Buddhist community are as quick as any other to rationalise away their reluctance to embrace veganism, often rehearsing all the questions and debating points vegans get all the time about health and the dread protein deficiency “problem”! However, as if he wrote this just for the social scientist in me, John returns to culture here too, saying, “Most of us come from meat eating cultures which have three features in common. 1) a learned habit and taste, 2) societal status and, 3) health myths.”
Would I recommend this book – yes I would. It is a little light on justice-for-all vegan philosophy, and stumbles into the “it’s about food” and “veganism is about reducing suffering” traps a little, but it is clearly written and engaging – and, like all the best reggae tunes, bops along at a fair rate. The last chapter contains a very nice touch; the author turning, so to speak, to directly address the general reader, asking them to decide what they are going to do with the information they have just learned. Not surprisingly, though, John Bussineau finishes with an appeal to the global Buddhist community to embrace veganism because its values and many of theirs are already aligned.