“Trying to enforce non-meaty alternatives to phrases like ‘bring home the bacon’ will only harm the veganism cause” writes Jessica Brown for The Guardian. Like me, she sweat buckets trying not to come across as the cliché ‘veggie police’ – the accusation that comes with every plant-based lifestyle. A vegan is someone who doesn’t eat or use animal products – full disclaimer, I am not one of those extremist types who goes around chanting and whacking you in the morals with a sack of spuds, so do not fear, there is no judgement here. Mainly, I am writing this just because I wanted to sip some oat milk tea in the face of the most recent scandal we’ve had since the horsemeat one.
Recently, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) released a list of controversial alternatives to commonly used idioms that perpetuate violence against animals. They argue that using phrases such as ‘skinning a cat’ and ‘bringing home the bacon’ should become a thing of the past, as animal abuse is fast becoming a tradition that holds no place at the dinner table. However, what started off as a simple suggestion, has turned into a bit of a wild goose chase, if you ask me, with well-known influencers such as Russell Howard chipping in on just how ludicrous ‘bring home the bagels’ sounds, condemning the whole affair as “a load of plant s***”.
Without opening a can of worms, I can offer a somewhat experienced perspective on this. As a vegan (previously vegetarian), most people would be shocked to hear that I agree with Howard. Not only does this whole list fiasco promote the idea that plant-based lifestyles are for snowflakes, but it perpetuates the stereotype that veggies are all about shoving their opinions down people’s throats. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that the vegan stereotype is a pushy person with a restrictive diet – and that’s without PETA’s damaging article guilt-tripping people not only for what they put into their mouths, but now, also for what comes out of them.
it perpetuates the stereotype that veggies are all about shoving their opinions down people’s throats
In linguistic terminology, an idiom is defined as a figurative expression; I think we’re all mature enough to know that ‘killing two birds with one stone’ does not mean you’re off to bludgeon a bunch of unsuspecting seagulls (although if any of them need knocking down a peg or two, it’s the ones that try and gobble up my falafels on the Forum steps). Now, I’m not saying PETA’s suggestions are completely irrelevant. What most newspapers are failing to recognise as they lampoon PETA with various labels of the fragile snowflake variety, is that their advice was aimed at children, rather than fully-grown adults.
In conjunction with Teachkind, their learning resource ‘Animal-Friendly Idioms That Your Students Will Love’ instructs teachers to show children that animal abuse, in any context is wrong. Through this classroom resource pack, they point out that “While these phrases may seem harmless, they […] send mixed signals to students about the relationship between humans and animals and can normalize abuse.”
Put simply, it was created to “help end the epidemic of youth violence toward animals”. The organisation even provides a hyperlink to access the mounting evidence of case studies detailing the animal abuse committed by children and teenagers that they hope to prevent via education. The crimes are graphic – including the stabbing, shooting, blinding, hanging, strangling and sexual assault of animals, and the sharing of footage of the attacks on via social media.
So, the question stands, are PETA just barking up the wrong tree and bordering on excessive, or are they onto something? The etymology of the English language is heavily reliant upon cultural history and tradition. For example, being a “guinea pig” refers to being the first at giving something a go, yet originates from the use of guinea pigs, among other animals, in scientific experiments since the 17th century. Despite the use of animals for cosmetics testing being banned in the UK and the EU, countries such as China and the United States don’t adhere to the same humane practices.
With this in mind, diachronic language change occurs over time; with each shift towards a more accepting and understanding society, language will also follow suit. For example, lexis of a sexist, homophobic or racist nature is now unacceptable – colloquialisms uttered fifty years ago would die instantly on the tongue today, which is a testament to change.
diachronic language change occurs over time
So, if you’re curious about giving this whole vegan thing a whirl, you can eat everything you eat now, just minus the animals. We’re drowning in milk and cheese alternatives – oat, coconut, cashew – the list is endless. Oreos, Ben & Jerry’s and Domino’s are essentially my holy trinity of food groups, so don’t think for a second you have to munch cabbage whilst your mates all pig out (excuse the idiom).
Although animal agriculture is the leading cause of climate change, as The Guardian so eloquently puts it, “we can’t scare or guilt people into making positive change for the planet”. We understand that 93% of the world is currently non-vegan, so I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone – for their meat-free Mondays, for flexitarians, for listening to their mums and re-using those 5p bags – and of course, to all of Britain, for being seduced by David Attenborough’s dulcet tones and ditching their plastic straws.