Call for Submissions: The After Coetzee Project: An Anthology of Short Fiction

September 22, 2013

This really neat call for submissions has come my way a few times and I think it’s high time to post it here. If you are a vegan fiction writer, or know any, please check this out and pass the word along. It’s a fantastic project that is seeking to situate animals in fiction as their own subjects, not just as metaphors or empty containers to be projected upon.

CFP: The After Coetzee Project
Deadline: December 1, 2013
aftercoetzee.com
The After Coetzee Project seeks short-fiction submissions for a print anthology. We seek accomplished stories that feature nonhuman animals and are written out of the premise that animals are subjects in themselves, for themselves. We appreciate attentiveness to nonhuman animal bodies and bodiliness as a way of knowing (see Tolstoy’s _Strider_, particularly the last chapter). Our aesthetic leans toward lyricism and experimentalism, but literary genre fiction is also welcome.
Stories that render animals into metaphors, symbols, or objects in blood sport are usually rejected outright, but there are exceptions. We would gladly accept E. Lily Yu’s “The Transfiguration of Maria Luísa Ortega”: though the story appears human focused, the parable can be read as rejecting two speciesist pillars of thought — science and religion — in favor of the nonhuman. Once the priest becomes a seal, he becomes most lovely, most alive.

Please send short story submissions of up to twenty-five double-spaced pages to aftercoetzee@gmail.com.

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Running for the Revolution: An Interview With Vegan Activist and Ultramarathoner James McWilliams

August 21, 2012


A few weeks ago, Alex and I lifted weights and did push-ups together while cheering each other on with reminders of all the personal and political empowerment that comes along with physical and mental health. As the only tattooed, scruffy-haired vegans at the gym, it felt bold and empowering to take back the image of strength we’d so often lost through implicit and explicit messages: that vegans don’t even possess baseline health, let alone strength; that there’s too much work to be done to waste time taking care of ourselves physically and mentally; that we simply don’t matter as much as the nonhumans and humans around us. We got to talking about how important it is to be strong and healthy if you’re going to work for justice. How you’ve got to stay present for the future—to have the strength required to get things done now, as well as to hold, with calmness and compassion, all the hope, vision, and space that’s required for a beautiful future to take shape. After all, you’ve got to have a strong body, heart, and mind to start a revolution.

In that spirit, we had the honor to pick the brain of somebody whose body, heart, and mind have figured all this out: James McWilliams. McWilliams is a vegan activist, historian, author, professor, and ultramarathon runner. You can find some of McWilliams’ wonderful writings at his Eating Plants blog.


CZ: Many folks know your work as an historian and vegan advocate, but many of your readers are probably not aware that you are an extremely accomplished runner. Can you talk about your history with running, why you started, why you continue, and what your current practice looks like?

JM: I ran in high school but, for some unknown reason, quit doing so when I went off to college. Eventually, I fell out of shape physically. I also fell out of shape mentally and emotionally, which was worse. Too much beer, bad food, inexcusable behavior. Then came my running epiphany, one of the few genuine epiphanies I’ve experienced, and my life changed.

One afternoon, after a physics exam (bombed it), I decided to go for a run. I’m not sure why. I left at five in the afternoon with the intention of running a few miles, but something happened.  A mysterious switch flipped and I entered a zone and decided I liked this zone. I lived in Washington, DC at the time—a beautiful city, especially at night. I ran until the sun went down and kept going. I couldn’t recall ever having run so far, ever feeling so present, so alive, so unified with my ideas. I got home at about nine PM having run about twenty miles.

I ran my first marathon a year later in San Francisco and I’ve run at least two a year, plus ultramarathons, since 1992. It’s now a central part of my identity. What’s perhaps the best part about running is that I enjoy it more as I get older. Everyone tells me my knees are going to quit, but until they do, I think they’re wrong.

CZ: I’m a big fan of the idea that the personal is the political—that our relationships to our bodies and food can’t be separated from politics and society. What connections do you make, if any, between your life as a runner and your life as a vegan?

JM: I ran for twenty years before going vegan, so for a long time, there was no obvious connection.  In retrospect, running proved to be excellent training for my transition to and advocacy of ethical veganism.

Long distance running is personal and political, but even more, it’s transcendental. You transcend “normal” behavior as well as your own expectations. Over time, this serial transcendence plateaus at a different idea of “normal.” Through this beautiful, empowering process, you locate and relocate your identity. You constantly create new conceptions of what’s possible and those new concepts become part of you. The key here is this: You then become more involved with the world as an agent of change. You rage a bit. And this entire process is modeled. Others witness it; many are moved by it—they change for the better.  In this ongoing empowerment and transcendence, you are a public model, whether or not you think so. When you start running seventy miles a week, the people around you will eventually take notice and become curious. It’s an exceptional thing.

A very similar scenario—this internalizing, identifying, witnessing, and modeling— happens with vegan advocacy. My chances of convincing a non-runner to run by declaring “run!” are the same as convincing a non-vegan to go vegan by declaring “go vegan!”  Basically zero. Yes, you have to make your case, and there are a million ways to do it, but ultimately you have to do so while putting yourself out there, by allowing yourself to be witnessed. It’s risky as all hell, but there’s really no choice. A long distance runner cannot hide her running identity any more easily than a vegan advocate can hide his vegan identity. Nor should they hide it. Exposure has its costs, for sure, but the rewards are sublime; just ask any ethical vegan or self-identified marathoner. In these ways, both long distance running and ethical veganism etch positive standards—personal and political—into the pantheon of unrealized possibilities.

CZ: Mental and physical health and its relationship to revolution: discuss.

JM: I may have touched on this connection in the last answer a bit, so let me swerve in a related direction. A revolutionary mentality demands several qualities: the ability to waver between individualism and community, the ability to not care when people you admire love or disagree with you (or end up hating you), the ability to choose peace over force whenever possible, and the ability to admit when you’re wrong and not gloat when you’re right.

I think running religiously has a way of imparting and nurturing the emotional preconditions of many revolutionary-minded qualities. I won’t go into precisely how for each, but I will say: In general, running teaches humility; greed for what’s good; inestimable self-assurance (but not arrogance); and a deep sense of what really matters. These attributes strike me as critical for any effective revolutionary mentality, whether collective or individual.

CZ: What do you say to folks who want to start running but don’t have the slightest idea how?

JM: There are a gagillion books out there that can answer this question better than me, but I can share an anecdote. I had a friend who never ran but, inspired after watching the Marine Corps Marathon in his home town of Washington, DC, decided he wanted to run a marathon. He consulted me for guidance. Our first run was a block and a half, and it left him keeled over, wobbling for air. I thought to myself, forget it. A year later he completed a marathon. What I failed to appreciate was my friend’s persistence. Not strength or power, but persistence. He ran regularly (not daily), gently nudged up his distance, listened to his body, ate and slept well, and stuck with it until that magic moment occurs when you run far and get high.

CZ: I’m sure you have some super inspiring running stories. Can you tell us one?

JM: You are right, I have a lot, and I often go back to them for inspiration. Running, for me, often inspires peak moments. When this happens, I often have to stop running because the force of the experience overwhelms me so much. It’s as if you cannot be more present in the world at that moment.  And the beauty is, you don’t need to do anything. Just exist. Every distraction evaporates and you feel completely, fully alive. This last happened to me while running trails alone in the mountains around Eugene, Oregon, about two years ago. (Actually, I had one two weeks ago on the Golden Gate Bridge, but I’ll hold off on that one, as I’m still processing it… boy it was amazing.)  It was an impossibly crisp day. My run began in the city and, as I dealt with traffic and noise, my mind started to clutter with the data of daily life: work, bills, deadlines. I was dealing with a sore foot at the time and feeling sorry for myself as I entered the woods. When I hit elevation, my breathing picked up. As I reached about twelve miles, I turned this corner on the trail. Next thing I knew I was so high-jacked by the beauty of the forest around me that I found myself leaning against a Douglas Fir tree in tears. Joyful tears. I get chills even writing about it.

(Of course, when I returned and told a friend about the run, she noted that those woods were full of mountain lions. I’m glad I found this out afterwards!)

CZ: Any book recommendations for folks, particularly vegans, who want to be healthy runners?

JM: Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run is a wonderful book on veganism and running.

CZ: What are your favorite vegan foods for staying a healthy, strong runner?

JM: Oh, the list would be virtually endless. I’ll put it this way: My recovery from long runs has improved dramatically as a result of eating a diverse array of nutrient-dense foods. It used to take me a week or longer to get over an ultramarathon while non-vegan. Now, as a vegan, I can typically go out and run the next day.  I seek out beans, greens, and nuts of all sorts, whole grains, fruit, seeds, nutritional yeast; lots and lots of avocados and blueberries; a ton of root vegetables; nut pastes;  burritos, porridges, and so on. In a good day, I’ll eat 20-30 different kinds of nutrient-dense foods (and on a great day, 40.) All the while, I try to avoid junk food and anything too processed—I go easy on vegan cheese and meat substitutes. I eat tofu regularly, but in small quantities. That said, I’m no food purist. I drink a boatload of beer and love coffee and chocolate with a rare fervor.

CZ: Obligatory minimalist running discussion: At this blog we’re pretty critical of anything that stinks of paleofantasy and use of the naturalist fallacy to justify ideologies and behaviors, as so many people do with carnism. To me, it seems like the recent trends in minimalist and barefoot running lend themselves to being embraced by animal-food-obsessed paleodieters and, by extension, advocates of “humane” animal farming. What do you think? Is minimalist running legit?

JM: You’re right that barefoot running, inspired by the book Born to Run, is a bit of hokey trend, and one very likely linked up with sordid pornographic paleofantasies involving endurance and  hunting game across the dusty tundra with self-fashioned spears. Personally, I think it’s all rather silly. As my friend from Burundi, who grew up running barefoot because he couldn’t afford shoes, says: “Why would anyone willingly do that?” That said, I do run barefoot on grass for a couple of miles a week to stretch out my foot. I find the experience to be pleasant and effective. Needless to say, I don’t dream about hunting a leopard as I go; I just want to keep my Achilles tendons healthy. Ultimately, though, when it comes to running, I say do whatever works. I once met a guy—a doctor—for an early morning run before he had to be at work for his 6 AM shift. As he got out of his car, he realized he’d left his running shoes at home. He thought about running barefoot but, recalling all the patients he saw with torn calves from barefoot running, decided against it. He ended up running ten miles in a pair of rubber Wellingtons from the trunk of his car. Whatever works.

CZ: This society kind of doesn’t want to admit that vegans can be strong and healthy. A lot of vegans internalize this message and it doesn’t even occur to us that we, too, can be bad-ass runners. Any words of wisdom for us?

JM: There’s no need to rush out and become sculpted models of athletic prowess. The health that vegans should want to share is a health that unifies a state of mind and a state of physical being, both of which are intimately connected. Running is one the purest and most authentic things I do. I hope the way I present myself physically to the world naturally reflects this—not through superficial markers like musculature or leanness or whatnot, but through overall bearing and presence. I realize that this all wades into the choppy waves of body-image, and in no way do I wish to downplay the complex turmoil of that concern. It’s just that I know many long-distance runners who you’d never guess, by standard conceptions of what runners are supposed to look like, were avid marathoners. On the contrary, no matter what their bodies look like, what’s always evident in their physicality is a quiet security and confidence. That’s what strong and healthy vegans should, in my opinion, seek to model.

 


Navigating our blog

March 19, 2011

Hi. This blog in some ways is more of a website, and it’s somewhat of a non-linear work in progress. There’s a lot more we will be looking into as time allows, especially issues raised about agriculture, ecology, “humane” farming, grass-fed beef, , problems of overpopulation, consumerism, capitalism, sustainable vegan agriculture, and many others. We’re pretty busy folks, so if you’ve caught us during a lapse in posts, here is an easy-ish way to navigate:

Analyses related to chapter one

Analyses related to chapter two

Analyses related to chapter three

Analyses related to chapter four

Analyses related to chapter five

Etc. (Posts of a more generalized nature)

See other categories to the right.


Interesting article: The Locavore Myth, James McWilliams

March 8, 2011

The Locavore Myth

James E. McWilliams,
Forbes Magazine August 03, 2009

Why buying from nearby farmers won’t save the planet.

Buy local, shrink the distance food travels, save the planet. The locavore movement has captured a lot of fans. To their credit, they are highlighting the problems with industrialized food. But a lot of them are making a big mistake. By focusing on transportation, they overlook other energy-hogging factors in food production. Take lamb. A 2006 academic study (funded by the New Zealand government) discovered that it made more environmental sense for a Londoner to buy lamb shipped from New Zealand than to buy lamb raised in the U.K. This finding is counterintuitive–if you’re only counting food miles. But New Zealand lamb is raised on pastures with a small carbon footprint, whereas most English lamb is produced under intensive factory-like conditions with a big carbon footprint. This disparity overwhelms domestic lamb’s advantage in transportation energy.  New Zealand lamb is not exceptional. Take a close look at water usage, fertilizer types, processing methods and packaging techniques and you discover that factors other than shipping far outweigh the energy it takes to transport food. One analysis, by Rich Pirog of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, showed that transportation accounts for only 11% of food’s carbon footprint. A fourth of the energy required to produce food is expended in the consumer’s kitchen. Still more energy is consumed per meal in a restaurant, since restaurants throw away most of their leftovers. Locavores argue that buying local food supports an area’s farmers and, in turn, strengthens the community. Fair enough. Left unacknowledged, however, is the fact that it also hurts farmers in other parts of the world. The U.K. buys most of its green beans from Kenya. While it’s true that the beans almost always arrive in airplanes–the form of transportation that consumes the most energy–it’s also true that a campaign to shame English consumers with small airplane stickers affixed to flown-in produce threatens the livelihood of 1.5 million sub-Saharan farmers.

Another chink in the locavores’ armor involves the way food miles are calculated. To choose a locally grown apple over an apple trucked in from across the country might seem easy. But this decision ignores economies of scale. To take an extreme example, a shipper sending a truck with 2,000 apples over 2,000 miles would consume the same amount of fuel per apple as a local farmer who takes a pickup 50 miles to sell 50 apples at his stall at the green market. The critical measure here is not food miles but apples per gallon. The one big problem with thinking beyond food miles is that it’s hard to get the information you need. Ethically concerned consumers know very little about processing practices, water availability, packaging waste and fertilizer application. This is an opportunity for watchdog groups. They should make life-cycle carbon counts available to shoppers. Until our food system becomes more transparent, there is one thing you can do to shrink the carbon footprint of your dinner: Take the meat off your plate. No matter how you slice it, it takes more energy to bring meat, as opposed to plants, to the table. It takes 6 pounds of grain to make a pound of chicken and 10 to 16 pounds to make a pound of beef. That difference translates into big differences in inputs. It requires 2,400 liters of water to make a burger and only 13 liters to grow a tomato. A majority of the water in the American West goes toward the production of pigs, chickens and cattle. The average American eats 273 pounds of meat a year. Give up red meat once a week and you’ll save as much energy as if the only food miles in your diet were the distance to the nearest truck farmer.

If you want to make a statement, ride your bike to the farmer’s market. If you want to reduce greenhouse gases, become a vegetarian.

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*Has anyone read his book, Just Food? Thoughts? I’m going to look into it. -cz


A paper and a new “vegetarian myth epic review”: check it out!

March 6, 2011

Some folks are doing amazing work deconstructing myths about humane and local meat agriculture, as well as Lierre Keith’s work. We love when our readers bring this stuff to our attention and jump at the opportunity to spread the word!

-Check out this really interesting academic essay, originally published in the Journal for Critical Animal Studies:  “Green” Eggs and Ham? The Myth of Sustainable Meat and the Danger of the Local ” by Vasile Stănescu. Good food for thought regarding the ecological and ethical problems many locavores and “humane” carnists tend to ignore.

-Also check out this blog by Savage Rabbit, who is doing a pretty awesome thing called “Vegetarian Myth Epic Review”, that’s similar to our blog here but gets to a lot of stuff/points we haven’t gotten to. I particularly appreciate this post on how Lierre Keith, by her own account in post-TVM interviews, was not actually a vegan.


The Humane Myth

March 6, 2011

From the Humane Myth project:

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Aren’t “humane” animal products more sustainable?

Quite often, those promoting “humane” animal products suggest that these products are more sustainable than animal products from large industrialized operations. At first glance, this may seem to be true. When one pictures a traditional small-scale farm with large open pastures, and then, in contrast, a huge industrial facility surrounded by giant lagoons of waste products slowly leaching into the countryside, it seems clear that producing animal products on a small scale is better for the environment. However, the reality is far more complicated than these simple images may suggest. A more fundamental question to ask is whether any form of animal agriculture, if practiced on the scale needed to meet existing demand for animal products, is good for the environment, or sustainable.

As it is today, we know that humanity as a whole is living in a manner that is far from sustainable. In fact, it is estimated that our species is annually using resources at least 20% faster than the earth can renew or replenish. Those of us living in the wealthier countries are using up resources several hundred percent faster than the earth can sustain, with the extra load being absorbed by the extraction of resources from poorer countries. There are many signs that this imbalance is not only causing injustice and suffering on an unimaginable scale, but is also destabilizing our ecosystem. The most well known of these signs are global warming and the depletion of fresh water. Scientists worldwide are telling us the same story–if we don’t make major changes in the way we live, there are going to be drastic consequences, not in the distant future, but much sooner than most of us realize.

A recent study carried out by United Nations scientists demonstrated that animal agriculture is the number one source of greenhouse gas impact, making a greater contribution to global warming than all cars, trucks, buses, air planes, trains, and ships combined. This effect is based on the unavoidable biological realities of animal agriculture itself, realities that are present in all styles of animal farming. Regardless of the style of production, from the smallest scale farms to the largest industrial operations, the level of greenhouse gas impact per unit of animal products created is going to be in the same catastrophic range.

So as human population continues to spiral upward, and as more and more of the world’s people are convinced to adopt a western-style diet replete with animal products, the disastrous impact on the environment will expand regardless of the method being used to produce animal products. As it is, consumption of meat has gone up 500% in the past half century, and if present trends continue, will double in the next half century.

Further, the production of a diet based on on meat, milk, and eggs uses several times more energy and water, and creates more toxic pollution, than a diet based on grains, vegetables and fruits. We can already see that the fight for dwindling supplies of oil is causing armed conflict around the world. Many experts on geopolitics predict that it will not be long before wars are fought over water.

Lastly, there is the issue of available land. As it is, the rapidly expanding human population is constantly reducing the amount of land available for farming as well as rapidly deforesting the small percentage of wild lands that remain. Producing “humane” animal products requires at least double the amount of land required for the industrialized style of farming adopted in wealthy countries over the last several decades. In some cases, it takes several times more land to convert to “humane” methods.

So while the immediate surroundings of smaller scale pasture-based farm operations may have less concentrated pollution and less soil erosion than that produced by large-scale industrialized farms, the reality is that vastly more high quality farmland would be needed to convert existing production to “humane” farming. That amount of land is simply not available on the scale needed to meet the rapidly growing worldwide demand for animal products. It is also important to realize that as more wild lands are converted into “humane” farm land, more and more free-living animals will be displaced or killed, and more species will be driven to extinction.

So, when we step back and take a wider view of what is happening on our planet now, and what is projected to come to pass if we keep living the way we are, we’re obligated to consider our individual responsibility. Wouldn’t it be great if each took steps toward living in a way such that if everyone on the planet lived as we were, human civilization would be sustainable?

The reality is that moving toward consumption of “humane” animal products does not meet this standard. Instead, it is a time and resource-wasting distraction, one we can ill afford in the midst of an unprecedented ecological crisis.

If we wish to preserve our environment, avoid endless wars over energy and water, and if we do not wish to obtain our prosperity at the expense of the exploitation of others, if we wish to do right by those of future generations, the time has come to re-evaluate the role animal-agriculture plays not just in our own personal lives, but as a root cause of a number of planetary ills.

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The ecological problems of meat production don’t just stem from factory farms. They stem from animal agriculture in general. The demand for meat products in a world of 7 billion humans generally cannot be met in a “sustainable” way. Likewise, the mass exploitation of animals does not just stem from factory farms. There is no animal agriculture that does not, at worst, massively abuse animals and, at best, manipulate their bodies and reproductive systems as instruments and unnecessarily kill them. Read more about this important work, and find out how to get involved, at HumaneMyth.org: Deconstructing the Myth of Humane Animal Agriculture.


New blog discovery: Say What, Michael Pollan?

February 21, 2011

This is an exciting discovery: A blog called “Say What, Michael Pollan?” Check it out.

Much as I appreciate what Michael Pollan has done to raise awareness about food-related issues, I’m sometimes frustrated by things he says or writes that seem slanted or even incorrect. This blog is an attempt to encourage Pollan to check facts and think through arguments more carefully.

Thank you, Adam Merberg. We will be checking this out in much more depth.