I recently caught up with T.O.F.U magazine's Ryan Patey to discuss vegans and a little more.
How would you describe T.O.F.U Magazine?
T.O.F.U. magazine is a digital publication that aims to push buttons. It started off as an attempt to show that those who identify as vegan cannot be pigeonholed into one category, which is typically the "militant vegan" type. However, over the past few issues, I've been focusing more on intersectionality within the vegan community and how oppression of all sorts can happen anywhere, including in those circles dedicated to fighting at least one form of it.
The website states you aim to have a platform rather than a soapbox, what does that mean to you?
Providing a platform, rather than a soapbox, to me means that I don't want people to just preach to the choir. I try to encourage discussion based around a key topic for each issue (the last one was body image within the vegan community), and, for those articles submitted by people outside of the key topic, I try to give feedback that avoids framing veganism as this perfect solution and instead considers it as an alternative that has both good and bad elements. I want to provide people with a chance to share their thoughts while being open to the idea that there are other opinions out there.
What are your thoughts on using images of animals being abused to inform people of animal rights? Do you think this helps or hinders the vegan/animal rights cause?
I'm sure I can't cover all of my thoughts on this topic in a simple answer, so I'm just going to touch on a few things that I think this tactic brings up.
I think images of abuse can be a good tool, but only when used in certain ways. A lot of people seem to think the shock factor is a great element to persuade people to change their ways, but it can have some terrible results. People don't like being shocked, especially by strangers or when they're in a public space where they feel they have some level of safety from triggering things like violence, disturbing images, harsh criticism, etc... Granted, this belief is proven false in plenty of ways by other people, but the reaction to this is rarely positive.
As well, I think the expectation that people would stop doing a certain thing if only they knew what happened for them to be able to do it is a little too optimistic. We've developed an amazing number of methods to help us ignore things, downplay them, or process new information in a way that either invalidates it or still allows us to do what we normally do. This is especially effective when it comes to cases where the group you're trying to get people to care for has been "othered". Sure, some folks would say that those people who are able to ignore the images of a factory farm are heartless and not worth the earth they walk on, but if you ask them whether or not PETA's campaigns are sexist and should be changed for the sake of women and other groups, they may just as quickly tell you to stop being so sensitive.
So, in my opinion, approaching people in a manner that creates a mutual respect and some sort of common ground (for example: food) is probably the best way to change their opinions for the long-term. Granted, this isn't to say that there is no place for this sort of activism. Recent campaigns involving Pay-Per-View models (the use of PPV by the Farm Animal Rights Movement was discussed in our most recent issue) that offer the viewer a cash incentive to watch a short clip have had great results, and they involve the viewer's consent directly. To me, this is something missing from a lot of campaigns involving animal abuse imagery.
What does being/eating vegan mean to you? How does this effect what you feature in the magazine?
I am vegan for the simple fact that I couldn't kill anything for my own benefit. I grew up in a small town in Newfoundland, and I went on several hunting trips with my family. Each time I was on these trips, I spent the entire time hoping we wouldn't catch a thing. For whatever reason, we never did. Although I was introduced to veganism by a former partner, and I adopted a domestic veganism when I moved in with her, it wasn't until I moved to Winnipeg on my own that I truly took the step. Since then, this underlying principle of not being able to kill something myself has been my main reason for being vegan.
Given my view, and the fact that I don't believe veganism to be a universally perfect solution, I avoid language and opinions that promote it as such. So, the magazine now tends to focus more on people who are vegan and what they do in their lives, whether that is to promote veganism or another thing they are passionate about. More time is spent on what these people are doing as vegans versus why these people are vegan.
What do you think the problems are with eating meat?
Given my personal stance on eating meat, my problem with it is more so focused on how it happens rather than the fact that it does happen. Coming from a small town in a rather isolated part of the world, the idea of factory farms and industrial-level animal cruelty is more something to be read about than seen. Personally, I was uncomfortable with the idea of hunting for myself, but I have family who do it as part of the way they live. They understand how their food comes to be, and, for the most part, they are responsible for getting it to their own plate. In some ways, I envy this situation since I am not as self-sufficient in my choices. Thus, I have an issue with the disconnect that has occurred between people and their food, especially with those people who don't want to know so they can continue to enjoy their shrink-wrapped pork chops 1000 kms from where the animal died.
Of course, an industrial level of meat production also leads to the numerous health and environmental issues that we hear about related to eating meat. For the sake of keeping this relatively short, I'm not going to get into them, but when a cheeseburger is cheaper than an apple, you're going to end up with people making choices that are not for their health, and that obviously involves a lot of layers (privilege, classism, politics, racism, etc…) that need to be thought about before simply saying, "Go vegan!"
What advice would you give to someone eating vegan/vegetarian on the road?
Eating veg on the road depends on whether or not you're the only veg involved in the travel. My experiences with travelling with all vegans, whether it was the duo The Pleasants when we crossed North America for the first T.O.F.U. tour or driving from Denver to Portland with my friend Dan from The Gay Vegans , have been great. There's no need to explain why you HAVE to eat at this one vegan place in the town you're in, even if it's twenty minutes away from the Taco Bell you're standing in front of. Plus, the vehicle always has snacks. And you can eat them all.
Of course, travelling with non-veg people really just requires extra patience and preparation beforehand. A few extra snacks and some good directions to the veg restaurant in the next town can go a long way. Along with that, it doesn't hurt to be a little flexible in what you're willing to eat. No, you don't have to jump off the veg bandwagon, but an openness to accidentally vegan gas station food and other such culinary delights is a big help when you're trying to get somewhere with other people.
What is your favourite animal?
What do you think is the simplest thing someone can do to help animals?
The simplest thing one can do to help animals would be to cut-out meat/dairy/eggs for at least a meal or two. It really doesn't take much (a good chili, a salad, etc...) and it could lead to a few more meatless meals once you realize how easy it is. I believe that personal baby steps can lead to significant changes overall, and that's what matters when you're trying to change the systems that are causing a lot of the problems our food chain faces right now.
If you could make a movie with no limits what would it be about?
Although I'd love to write a good comedy or perhaps a drama, the opportunity to do something with no limits suggests I should do something with more meaning, so a documentary is the route I would take. I'd love to be able to put some good money behind a doc on the indigenous people of Canada. I grew up in Newfoundland, where the disappearance of the Beothuks was taught to me as a historical footnote with a sad excuse for a museum in Grand Falls-Windsor dedicated to the last of their kind, and now I'm living in Winnipeg where the presence of indigenous people is not only a part of the local history, but also an obvious presence today. Add to this the consistent requests from organizations, both within and external to Canada, to improve our relationships with a significant part of our population, and there is a serious need to give more attention to the matter. Plus, with no limits, one would expect that I could give most of the control to people to tell their own story, and I wouldn't have to cast Johnny Depp just to appease the white people that Hollywood seems to think will run away at the sight of someone unlike them. And maybe, just maybe, the doc might do better than The Lone Ranger, which might not be that hard the last time I checked.
What do you want people to know about T.O.F.U magazine?
I'd like for people to know that T.O.F.U. is a magazine run by just me, but written by vegans from around the world. As I hope I've made clear in the answers above, it's not meant to hit you over the head with how great veganism is. In fact, for those who are vegan, some of the articles may be rather upsetting since we certainly don't avoid criticizing the movement itself. Basically, it's not just a single issue magazine, but it is based around at least one common trait: being vegan.
To find out more check out ILoveTofu.ca