Dumpster Diving with Gary Francione, Part 2

In my last post, I discussed Francione’s attitude towards animal product contamination – or as he puts it “consumption.” In Francione’s estimation, dumpster diving for foods containing animal products is immoral even if nobody sees you do it. Because, would you eat a human arm?

If that makes sense to you, I would contend that, like Francione, you’ve probably never been food insecure.

And frankly, Francione’s video reeks to me of the sort of privilege that I believe he genuinely doesn’t realize he has.

Being Food Insecure

I had food security until I was approximately 12 years old and my father became extremely ill. It was just a few weeks after my 12th birthday and everything changed. Until I went to University, I never experienced real security again (it’s strange, but student loans can make you feel extremely secure if you’ve spent the last few years wondering if your family would have enough money to buy groceries).

When I hear Francione telling people that they can’t eat non-vegan food from a dumpster, it honestly upsets me. Has he ever had to get his meals from a food bank? From the kindness of others? 1 in 6 Americans is food insecure, and the numbers are far worse in many other parts of the world. I would never consider someone an inferior vegan if they ate non-vegan food out of desperation.

The idea that people are diving into dumpsters just to sneak a little meat is ridiculous. I haven’t met anyone in my life who does this as a hobby, though I’m sure there are a few. There’s actually a line in Francione’s video where he expresses the idea that it “amazes” him “that people are willing to go to such lengths to consume animal products.” Really, Gary?

Perhaps he’s surrounded by hipsters who think dumpster diving is somehow cool, but trust me, people who get food from dumpsters because they HAVE TO are not going to “such lengths” as an excuse to dine on “milk solids” or some other hideously non-vegan food. No, most of them want to be able to feed their families.

I’m sorry that I have such a visceral reaction to this, but to hear a fellow vegan say something like this is just shocking to me. I know Francione means well, but it feels as if his disgust at the idea of people eating from dumpsters is as palpable as his revulsion towards people consuming animal products.

“Dumpster Diving For Meat is No Different Than Eating Human Body Parts!”

Actually, I don’t disagree with this. Eating discarded meat is pretty much the same, no matter what animal it comes from. Consequences matter, and there’s ultimately no difference between the two.
But I found Francione’s argument about the “human arm” totally ridiculous. Why? If you’re starving and willing to eat human flesh, who cares? (as long as you aren’t murdering people, duh).

If you aren’t starving and you’re still willing to eat human body parts – well, I’d probably question your sanity. I also consider it a good excuse for the police to monitor your behaviour a little more closely. It’s definitely kind of weird.

But is it immoral? Or just gross?

After all, you have contributed nothing to the industry that produces the meat, and you aren’t encouraging consumption. That is, unless you feed it to your friends and companions as a way of advertising animal products.  But you might be less than successful, especially if they wind up hospitalized with a bad case of food poisoning.

My appeal to Professor Francione

I admire Gary Francione a great deal, but I felt his video concerning dumpster diving was extremely damaging to the vegan movement. To me, it betrays a lack of empathy for the struggle so many people face in feeding themselves every day.

How can vegans reach others effectively when we fail to grasp the desperation faced by so many humans every day? We are aware of the suffering of non-human animals, but what of the human variety? Until you have gone hungry and wondered if your family would ever have another meal, please refrain from talking about dumpster diving from the moral high ground.

It’s perfectly possible for someone to deeply care about the use and abuse of non-human animals and eat a can of chilli from the food bank. It is one of those grey areas that Francione doesn’t want to admit exists, but it’s there all the same. You may recall the story of the Uruguayan Rugby team that crashed in the Andes in 1972. Most of the team perished in the crash, and later even ore from starvation. But medical student Roberto Canesaa and a few of his friends survived, by doing the unthinkable – consuming the remains of their fallen teammates.

I admire Canessa. He made a decision I’m not sure I could. He later went on to become a paediatric cardiologist, and likely saved many other lives throughout his career.

Would Francione condemn Canessa? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But the confidence with which he condemns others gives me pause.

Sometimes our heroes disappoint. For that reason, I urge everyone: never lose your empathy. Forget hard and fast rules. This is a world of complexity. And if your philosophy is incompatible with that – well, it’s you’re philosophy that needs changing.

What do you think? Join the conversation!

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