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.


Guest Post #2: “It drives me nuts when adults find out I’m a vegetarian and think I need to be saved.”

June 15, 2012

This guest post comes from seventeen year-old Kiley Krzyzek, who stands up for animals as well as her own right to eat ethically.

Myth: Teenage Girls are vegetarian to cover up eating disorders

Truth: Some Teen Vegetarians actually are healthy

In 2009, Time magazine published “Study: Is Vegetarianism a Teen Eating Disorder?” claiming that most teenage ‘vegetarians’ actually just want to lose weight and mask an eating disorder because it’s more admirable to call themselves vegetarians. They also pointed out that some still eat poultry and fish, even though that food was living, too.

Granted some teens may have given up meat to lose weight, but it’d be stereotyping to think that goes for all teenage vegetarians.

I’m seventeen years old and have been a vegetarian since the age of twelve. My whole teenage career I’ve eaten a vegetarian diet, and I am healthy and do it for the sake of animals. I certainly do not have an eating disorder, and am proud that I don’t eat fish or poultry.

My older sister is a vegetarian for health purposes, and I’ve always admired her for helping animals. I felt kind of guilty at a young age for eating animals. At the dinner table I remember asking my parents what animal the meat came from and they never wanted to think about it. However, not cooking the meals and not really understanding the extent of the cruelty, I didn’t take action right away.

I became a vegetarian in seventh grade. Middle school is a time where most students strive to fit in and copy peers. Instead, I strove for individuality and decided to go veg. It was dissection day in science class. We had to dissect frogs, and even chicken breasts from the super market. Everyone was so grossed out and lunch was next. My friends were talking about how they didn’t want to eat meat, and I wondered: Why would I want to eat meat ever again? So after seeing that display of animal cruelty, not to mention how disgusting those veins in the chicken breast were, I vowed to go vegetarian.

It helped having Courtney, my older sister, to give advice on a healthy vegetarian diet. She taught me how to get enough protein from veggie burgers and how to cook tofu. Having someone around to cook me vegetarian meals and make sure I was getting the necessary nutrients was a great help.

I also talked to my doctor about it. He recommended I take daily vitamins and to make sure I eat enough veggies and fruit.

If you know a teen who’s a vegetarian, it’s okay to be concerned and make sure they’re getting enough nutrients. Ask them about the kind of foods they eat, but don’t accuse them of not being healthy. It drives me nuts when adults find out I’m a vegetarian and think I need to be saved. It’s a choice, and done right it can be a very healthy one.

Going vegetarian is a personal decision and isn’t for everyone. However, if after research and consulting your doctor you think it could be right for you, try switching meat products with what I refer to as “fake meat” ones such as Morning Star Farms products you can find in your local grocery stores’ freezer aisle.

A vegetarian diet is right for me. I feel more healthy and take pride in the fact that I’m saving animals from cruelty. I think instead of blaming the vegetarian diet, people should take a closer look at what the media portrays to young girls as the ideal look. And no, Time Magazine… I don’t have an eating disorder, thank you very much.


The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s Rape Rack: Feminism and Animal Rights

May 16, 2012

I wrote this essay several years ago and never ended up doing anything with it. A friend recently asked me if I had any essays regarding the importance of animal rights activists and feminists standing in solidarity, particularly around the issue of reproductive control and the imperative for animal rights activists to embrace the pro-choice stance. I wrote this for a feminist audience and I know that several more things need to be–and are being–written about animal oppression’s connections to other human movements. It is on my to-do list to write another with an animal rights audience in mind. For the purposes of this piece, I’ll define women as anyone who relates to the label and anyone who has ovaries/a womb etc. I know it’s long, but I feel it’s important enough to warrant a lot of words.

The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s Rape Rack

The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.-Alice Walker

Feminists and animal rights activists don’t want to talk about it, but they have a lot in common. They don’t want to hear about it, but they need one another to move forward. Being a feminist and an animal rights activist gives me an interesting perspective. I have managed to straddle both movements and witness this fantastic resistance that each side has to the other. This resistance becomes deeply painful when you’re standing in the middle, attempting to be a bridge, watching so much revolutionary potential fall through that stubborn chasm.

Most feminists have been pretty good at asking hard questions. We demand that male privilege, white privilege, able-bodied privilege, heterosexual privilege, Euro-American privilege, class privilege, and many other privileges be analyzed. Some of us have addressed these questions about privilege better than others but, generally, serious feminists have gotten to the point where we recognize that the movement is not simply about gender. Women’s lived experiences stretch across multicolored, multitextured layers of identity, culture, history, and context. In order for feminism to be truly relevant, then, it needs to examine all of society’s power structures. If it doesn’t, it will apply only to rich white women who are not negatively affected by hierarchical orders of race, class, and nation, to name a few. In its most revolutionary form, feminism is a movement that seeks the dismantling of domination itself and all of the frameworks which allow it.

So it worries me that hardly any feminists have questioned one of our most fundamental expressions of power and domination: human privilege. It worries me that so few feminists have examined how this particular aspect of experience shapes our beliefs and actions on virtually every level, just like all other aspects of identity do. It worries me that so many feminists have overlooked the fact that determining one’s inherent worth based on their membership in a species is just as arbitrary as determining one’s inherent worth based on their race, gender, body size, sexuality, national origin, or any other identity marker. It worries me that feminists have overlooked the reality that human privilege is an analogue to all other privileges. It worries me that all of the same mechanisms which have been used to justify and enable violence against human groups have also been used to oppress nonhuman groups. It worries me that human privilege is indelibly connected to violence and misogyny in a tangled web of hierarchies and binaries, and that feminism, with its revolutionary potential, with its uninhibited call to justice, has generally been silent about all of this.

I want to ask the animal questions. Keep in mind, they are not unreasonable questions. We have asked similar questions about race, class, and nationality. We’ve done a similar analysis of many other power structures. We have recognized the complex, intersecting configurations of experience which allow so many oppressions at so many junctures. Yet most of us stop when nonhumans appear at such junctures. Even though examining the domination of nonhumans is nothing but a logical extension of feminism, even though this is the place feminism almost arrives at so often, virtually all feminisms have sidestepped when the next logical question would have been, what about animals?

When we get to places where animal questions might arise, we turn away. We lock up our wellsprings of inquiry and empathy. We don’t ask about how billions of nonhumans fit into webs of power and violence. We don’t want to know how nonhumans fit into this capitalist, patriarchal, racist, hierarchical scheme that has reached deeply into so many of us, in so many different ways. We challenge the false dichotomy of masculine/feminine but put so much faith in the false dichotomy of animal/human. It doesn’t occur to us that human privilege may not be any more “natural” than male or white privilege– that the human/animal dichotomy is just one more socially constructed method of organizing power. In an arbitrary and illogical swipe of its arm, feminism has reserved for human groups its important insights about social constructions of power and identity. Conceptually, feminism has written nonhuman animals out. It has erased them using mechanisms that are alarmingly similar to the ones men have used to erase women.

I want to delve deeper into the animal questions, but first I have to ask you to put down your defenses. The answers to the animal questions involve things as intimate as what or who we put into our mouths, chew, taste, enjoy, swallow, digest, and eventually shit out. The answers to such questions can bring on powerful and painful psychological, emotional, and physical reactions; reactions which all too often make us shut down and become defensive. The answers present virulent contradictions in our worldviews and require lifestyle changes. The answers often highlight our complicity in massive, institutionalized violence. Unthinkable, unspeakable violence.

But I want to push feminism into that profoundly uncomfortable space, and I don’t think feminism can move forward without going there. I believe that the future of feminism lies there, in that hardest, darkest space of so many nonhuman animals’ experiences. If we go into this place, we will start to understand the workings of the basest domination.

There are times when black activists have to push whites into a similar space. There are times when “Third World” feminists have to push “First World” feminists into such a space. All the time, gay activists have to push heterosexual people into it. It is a space in which violent power imbalances are confronted by those who abuse their power. There are times when women have to push men into that uncomfortable space, a place in which there are two choices: look away from male privilege, or look it in the face and see the unbelievable pain it has caused. And there were times when all of these confrontations seemed just as inconceivable as the one in question. But pushing these comfort zones is the only way in which change has ever occurred or will occur.

Who is going to push humans into that hard space?

The answer is, unless nonhumans figure out a way to revolt, we are going to have to push each other into it. And even though facing our domination of nonhumans is an incredibly painful process, there is no justification for it not being done. The brilliant, important work we do for humans does not give us a free moral ride, a free pass to be violent toward nonhumans. So when you come upon this space, what will you do? Will you look away from human privilege, or will you look it in the face to see all of the unbelievable pain it has caused?

I want to push feminism into the space where it examines the consequences of human privilege. It will not be easy, but in this place we can examine how we have taken on the eyes, the actions, the beliefs of the oppressor. In this place we can see that we have used all of his tools. That we are complicit in the vile, unthinkable acts of physical and sexual violence toward nonhuman animals which are happening literally every moment. That we are using the master’s tools not to dismantle his house, but to help the master oppress those in his darkest hidden dungeons.

I invite you to come with me to this frightening space. To do so you will have to fight your will to defend and deny human privilege in the same way that men defend and deny male privilege. You will have to exchange your defenses for the deepest empathy imaginable. You will have to take the energy of those defenses and turn it toward your desire for change. To come with me, you must agree to witness beings the way you have wanted to be witnessed. To believe that their pain is as real as yours is. To feel their yearning for liberation the way you feel your own. I want you to look into this space with me, and I want you to make a choice about what you are going to see and what you are going to do about it. I want all of us, together, to use our feminist eyes to compassionately witness the suffering of nonhuman creatures.

~
Open the door. This is a violent space.

It is a frightening space, a space which throbs like a heart, a heart that is shattered but still alive. It is the master’s secret basement. Eyes look out at you from its darkest corners, terrified of you because you are a human. There are so many questions in this space which need to be asked. Look in. Find him. Find pieces of him in yourself. Ask the questions, even if they do not have answers. Create the conceptual realm.

Ask the master: Why are ninety percent of sport hunters men? I want to know why; I want to know what justifies this absurd “masculine” delight in killing beautiful creatures. These creatures, they are the defenseless prey of men just like I have at times felt like the defenseless prey of men. So often, I feel hunted, I walk down the street with the male gaze gauging me like a gun. I understand the deer’s predicament, her fear of men, I even understand her fear or me, her terrified eyes. It comes from the exact same place that my own fear comes from. After all, ninety percent of the hunters of women are also men.

Let’s walk in a little further to this nightmarish cellar. Let’s really try to see the world through the eyes of others. Let’s be brave.

Ask: Why do meat and masculinity have such a long, complicated history of symbolizing and constructing one another? Need I list off all of the meat-related euphemisms for penis and penis-related activities? Sausage, say it without laughing. Sausage. Beat that meat. Choke that chicken. Your meat is your manhood. Real men eat steak. Real men cook on the grill. Real men have meat on their bones. You’re never going to be strong if you don’t eat meat, and real men are strong. Real men play football. Vegetarians are fags. Vegetarians are pussies, faggots. Girls. And girls are like vegetables, passive and weak.

Ask: Why do you feel like a piece meat after being violated or objectified? Hear the master shouting from the darkness: Leg of lamb! Chicken breast! Let’s order some legs and breasts! He fucked her like she was a goddamn piece of meat and she loved it! He fucked her with his meat! With his sausage! With his wiener! She wanted it! Bag her face, man! She’s pretty hot when you don‘t look at her face! She’s got nice tits! We are pieces. We are fragments. I love legs and breasts! Legs and breasts! Legs and breasts! I’m a real leg man! What about you? You seem like a breast man! Can I get a bite of that thigh? Thanks man! Ask him whether or not he’s talking about you or his meal. Maybe he’ll tell you he’s talking about both. After all, women and animals are consumed together. Made into meat and pieces, into pieces of meat, together. These are metaphors for our oppression. Animal bodies are the reality behind our metaphors. All of us know the reality of the sheer horror of animals’ lives on some level, which is why we don’t want to be treated like them.

Ask him, this master who has for so long held the pens: Why are there so many more animal words in that insult or objectify women than men? Ask: Why we are called bitches? Yes, ask this question and maybe he will remind you that, like the female breeding dog who struggles against being forced to have sex with the male breeding dog, we are difficult. Ornery. Angry. We are bitches who don’t want to be fucked. We are fat cows; we are hot young chicks; we are obnoxious old henpeckers. We are sex kittens, foxy ladies, evil vixens; we are mindless social butterflies. We have beavers. We have pussies. We don’t like to be treated like animals. Pens are power.

This space is enormous. It creates a bridge across thousands of years.

Ask him: Why was it that the men who dominated science started the practice of cutting apart live animals? The maps of science weren’t written by the oppressed. Would we have defined animals differently? Why don’t we redefine them, now that we have a stronger say? We, who have always known how it feels to merely be another’s goal? We, who have been raped by our fathers and brothers and partners and husbands and friends, prodded in secret places by doctors, sterilized without our consent? We, who, as men vivisected our nonhuman sisters and brothers, were being burned at the stake, pathologized, and lobotomized by those same exact men? What about those of us, largely people of color, who have been dissected by scientists right alongside nonhuman animals, who have been literal slaves on farms beside animals? We, who, together with an animal, destroyed Eden, and together were blamed for all of the evil in the world? But we always forget how we had company that day, how our dual fates were sealed on that page by the Father. We want to forget the destiny we shared with the snake in our most significant cultural myth.

Ask him: Would women have seen nonhumans as having inherent worth, worth beyond their use to humans, had we been the ones who set the standards? Held the pens? Made the maps? Written the textbooks? Founded the universities? Told the cultural myths? You do realize that this idea about nonhuman animals not having inherent worth was originated by men, right? One which we bought into for some reason? You do realize that these ideas about animals were specifically written out and articulated by the great male philosophers and the notorious schools of patriarchal “morality” so often ridiculed by feminists– Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Christianity, ad nauseum? How have we overlooked that common framework? Look at it. Stare at its violent, vile, disgusting face.

Ask: Why is it that abusive men regularly involve companion animals in woman battering? And why is this the aspect of domestic abuse that is the least recorded at police stations and shelters, even though it happens all the time? Can I ask, as I sit in this violent conceptual space, why it is that men are more likely than women to engage in violence in the home against the women, children, and companion animals who make up families?

Ask this master, as we walk through these deepest catacombs of pain: Why, for centuries, have men dominated both women and animals by domesticating them? By owning them? By consuming them? Ask the master, why these connections between animal husbandry and being a husband?

Why have powerful men co-opted the control of both women’s and animal’s reproductive systems? Ask the piece of the master that is in you: Why do women go along with this twisted scheme? Why do we drink the stolen milk of females in factory farms? How do we bear to know that their lives are defined specifically around their breasts being hooked up to machines or prodded and squeezed every day on “humane” farms? That they live attached to these tit-sucking machines and hands, often given horrible drugs so that they will keep producing for the master and his cohorts? That these drugs in our food give us reproductive cancers in turn?

And how can we eat the coerced eggs of females? The females who are supposed to spread their wings, go outside, live freely but instead inhabit tiny cages where their feet grow around feces-covered wires? Where from sheer madness they peck one another’s eyes out with the remains of their seared-off beaks? Even on “humane” farms, billions of females have been designed–literally, over centuries of breeding–to fulfill the sole purpose of being egg machines. Do we truly consent to such a world? That milk isn’t ours. Those eggs aren’t ours. Those bodies aren’t ours. Meat and dairy are the opposite of consent.

How do we allow the babies of mothers to be stolen? Have you ever seen cows mourn the loss of their calves? It’s phenomenal. Have you heard the bovine mothers cry? You would have thought they were human. Or maybe you might have been reminded that you are an animal. Have you ever seen the enormous, beautiful pigs– animals who are more intelligent than dogs– go mad sitting in their shit and piss, throwing their largest bodies against the walls of their tiniest death-laden pens, ripping their mouths apart as they try to bite through the metal bars? Have you ever seen their babies suck on their breasts through those prison bars or read stories about how these creatures frequently jump fences and the like in escape attempts? Have you ever realized that the animal farming is the most large-scale, institutionalized control of female reproduction, sex, and bodies-in-general that has ever existed?

Let us never forget the male bodies victimized by this patriarchal space. The useless young male chicks are thrown away alive in dumpsters or turned into veal. And the bulls become eunuchs, honorary females, having their testicles burned off with hot irons. Any bull who dares run away from even the most “humane” farm will be stun-gunned and wrestled back into life-long captivity until slaughtered for his body when his reproductive mechanisms become useless.

And here’s the big question. The question I don’t really want to ask because it makes me wince, it makes my skin crawl and fills my heart with horror. This is the topic which gets me in trouble with both feminists and with the master, again and again, perhaps because it makes so clear the ultimate thing we are not supposed to notice, this horrendous interconnection of oppressions: Did you know that many farmers nickname that place where our nonhuman sisters are artificially inseminated “the rape rack”?

The rape rack.

They actually call it the rape rack. This is not a term I constructed to be shocking. This term comes from our collective psyche and the psyches of farmers. And some version of this device, no matter what it is called, is central to all animal farming, whether permaculture or factory farms, local or distant, “humane” or otherwise.

Here is where my mind starts to shut down because I become so horrified at the implications. How do we bear to live in a world in which conditions exist so that anything, anywhere, no matter who was hooked up to it, could ever, even by the smallest stretch of imagination, be called a rape rack?

Feminist visions cannot come true in a world where rape racks exist. A feminist world cannot be a world where anyone, any life, human or nonhuman, male or female, black or white, two legs or four, could ever be defined solely based on their relationship to such a paradigm. A feminist world cannot be one in which anyone is defined based on how many times they can be inseminated, give birth, have their children stolen from them, drugged, be hooked up to a breast-sucking machine or have their breasts kneeded, sometimes daily, by humans who make money on their milk, have their milk and eggs stolen from them, and then be sent back to the rape rack or, in more “humane” situations, the insemination rod that gets pushed into their vaginas. As long as the rape rack exists, we will live in a world of rapists.

It’s hard for me to go here and feel the enormity of this. How hard is it, then, I wonder, for those who don’t want to see the oppression of animals for what it is? For those who don’t want to analyze human privilege or believe in this power dynamic? For those who refuse to acknowledge this dungeon? When I think of it all, my mind starts to writhe with the pain, the pain of wanting to save them and knowing I cannot. There are billions of nonhuman animals who live these unbelievable lives– literally billions. Tens of billions in one year in United States agriculture alone. That is a number so large I cannot even fathom it. That is billions more than the entire human population, in one year alone. That does not even take into account sea animals, the millions in vivisection and dissection, the millions who are tortured in fur traps and go mad in fur farms, the millions who are turned into leather shoes, the millions of companion animals who are abused, the millions of unwitting nonhumans who are hunted down for no reason with men’s big guns, the millions of nonhumans who are murdered during men’s big wars, with patriarchy’s big phallic bombs.

I feel the siren song of denial tugging at me: Do you feel it, too? This makes sense. The implications are too unfathomable. Animal rights activists often say that their introduction to the reality of animal lives was like taking the Matrix’s red pill. You cannot go back. Opening to the true lives of animals changes one’s entire paradigm so that you almost cannot see anything the same way. You begin to see that our entire civilization is based, in one way or another, whether literally or metaphorically, on the mass, unnecessary, institutionalized destruction of fellow beings. This is a world-view a person can’t understand unless they have truly gone there. I, too, even as a long-term vegan activist, often feel the need to walk away from this horror, to stop attempting to create a language which does it justice. But then I remind myself that this intoxicating song of denial is a trap. I remind myself that it wants me to justify or downplay the violence, to unfeel the horror of this space, to unsee what I know to be real, solely in an effort to protect my conscience. The blue pill is comfortable but it’s truly nothing more than a dream.

We love animals. We do not want them to suffer. We are friends with animals. We spend our lives alongside cats and dogs, fish and rabbits, birds, squirrels. We grow up collecting teddy bears and watching cartoon mice. As small children, we are often horrified when we find out what meat is, only to be confronted by a society in which such a horror is unacceptable and parents who refuse to let their children become vegetarians. Just like other groups at other times have done, we stay complicit in this violence by shutting off when the burden of pain is too large, when the connections feel too real and the aura of helplessness too overwhelming. We go inwards. We deny and justify and rationalize and intellectualize and become fragmented. In panic and numbness we use our privilege to make arbitrary, unconscious decisions about who should live and who should not.

We stay complicit by smothering portions of our hearts that want to care, by disallowing the life-oxygen of empathy to extend properly. But hearts were not meant to be smothered in this way. Hearts become dysfunctional when they are not available in their entirety, just like bodies with broken legs do. So why do we push the nonhumans away, into that special, shadowy section of our hearts? Why do we collude with the master in maintaining this dark, horrible, soundproof basement of colossal pain when we could be knocking down the walls?

We are animalized and they are feminized in complicated rings of domination and control and coercion and abuse and domestication and alienation. We do not need to be scared of these comparisons. To extend empathy beyond humans does not mean trading the human struggle for the nonhuman struggle. It means that both struggles will attain a new depth, one we could not conceive of before. It means putting one more hole in the stubborn cycle of violence. There is simply no need to keep justice all for ourselves. Empathy is not in limited supply; rather, it is like a muscle which gets stronger and larger with use.

Sit back. Take it all in. Before leaving this place, allow yourself to wonder. Allow yourself to remember your incredible power. Allow yourself to envision a world in which there is no unnecessary domination of any animal, human or nonhuman.

~

Ultimately, we, as feminists, have to do some serious soul-searching about all of this. We have to earnestly consider whether it is fair of us to ask the world to witness our voices and our pain when we so often refuse to witness the voices and pain of others. At its deepest level, is feminism being honest if it does not engage in this witnessing? I’m not so sure. Is it fair for us to call for our own dominators to stop, while simultaneously being dominators of billions of others? I don’t think it is. Is it fair to expect that those who oppress us examine their privilege, even though we do not examine one of our most fundamental privileges? Is it fair to demand autonomy, while simultaneously defining animals only in terms of their use to us? Does any group have a right to demand freedom while systematically keeping another group unfree?

I don’t think that a revolution in feminism can happen while feminists themselves are still colluding with this patriarchy-defined framework of dominator-dominated, and when those in question are arguably the most helpless, outcast, and unheard of all. No, I don’t think a feminist revolution can happen while this paradigm, while this bottom line, is still with us, and we are not taking accountability for our role in it. I want a world in which there is no domination. I want a feminism that recognizes all hierarchical power arrangements and seeks to eliminate them. I don’t think this request is unreasonable. In fact, I think it is one of the most reasonable requests ever made, and I think it is the largest, most profound and authentic expression of feminism possible.

This is a call to honestly ask ourselves, a call to be brave: With what eyes do we look at animals? Do we look at animals with feminist eyes, or do we look at them with the eyes of the master, those eyes that believe in the rightness and naturalness of domination? Do we look at them with indifferent, entitled, or domineering eyes, the same kinds of eyes that have oppressed us? Or do we look at them with revolutionary eyes? This question is crucial to the future of feminism. If we continue to look at this entirely silenced, universally subjugated group with the eyes of the old paradigm, a feminist world will not be realized, because feminism’s feet will still be caught in that violent framework of human and male domination. Feminism’s hands will still be bound to the master’s rape rack.

Animals are the ultimate, the fundamental Other. Let’s make the connection.


Lierre Keith, trans-hatred, veganism, feminism, liberation: a start

January 7, 2011

I want to thank the Transmeditations Blog for bringing this information to our attention in a post that elucidates Lierre Keith’s really unsettling (to say the least) and quite explicit hatred, sterotyping, and writing off of trans/gender queer folk. Please read it.

I repost this not in an attempt to take a shallow dig at Lierre Keith, though it is challenging for me not to take that dig. Indeed, this post, Keith’s simplistic and offensive comparisons between various complicated social identities, her lack of willingness to see the vast, matrix-like complicatedness of gender, sexuality, bodies, and minds, her use of assumption and stereotype, and her rehashing of old theories/writings from a particular group of notoriously trans-hating “radical”, white, US second-wave feminists — this all gave me a sick feeling in my stomach and made me feel deep anger and sadness. However, I’m reposting it because I want to question the whole idea that one can be effectively involved in radical food politics without a substantiated, nuanced, creative, and non-reactionary (a.k.a. fear based, backwards-looking) exploration of gender.

Another radical vegan explores Lierre Keith’s rabid trans-hatred here.

For now, let me say this: In this blog, we seek to challenge not only Lierre Keith (honestly, she doesn’t matter all that much in the grand scheme, not even really in the semi-grand scheme) but to challenge ideas being put forth by generally well-intentioned but reactionary critiques of veganism. Often these ideas leave out veganism’s critical and real connections to ecology, capitalism, gender, racism, and human rights in general. Lierre Keith represents just one of a group of thinkers who disconnect these issues explicitly and implicitly (usually implicitly). Indeed, hardly any of her core ideas are original. It is the picture she paints, the picture she supposedly lives, which lends itself to a larger analysis that goes far beyond her.

We are not only vegans, but human rights advocates. We see human and non-human liberation as intricately intertwined. We see connections between gender and veganism that go on for miles. These issues go beyond, even, ecology and environmentalism, leading us to questions like: What of domination, cages, jails, in general? What of questioning the very existence of breeding animals to be captive farming instruments/objects? What of our rabid defensiveness around this issue, our unwillingness to even entertain the  idea of a world without hundreds of billions of animal objects? What of the fact that animal agriculture represents the most large-scale, violent manipulation of reproductive systems, others’ sex, and bodies-in-general that has ever existed? What of challenging the deep-seated construction of the human/animal dichotomy that so mirrors the false dichotomies of human identities (black/white, man/woman, et al.?) I want to write a larger post on this issue at some point… a post about vegan feminism, about human and animal liberation, about so many ways in which veganism must be considered as a radical, liberatory philosophy and practice directly related to, and intertwined with, human liberation. I’ll write that post soon. For now, good night, and don’t forget to revolt.


Notes on meat-capitalism, paleofantasies, & Keith’s weird feminism re: chapter 4 resource analysis

July 23, 2010

Before we continue, some food for thought about our initial chapter 4 resource analysis…

1. Consider the connections between this low-carb, high-meat craze, how much money is made by the kinds of “brand” diets– capitalist business ventures–Keith is referencing, and how meat industries (including “humane farms”) stand to profit from it. Since only about 3.2% of people in the US are vegetarians, and 0.5% are vegans, we’re assuming this question about capitalism and ulterior motives does not pervade the public conversation re: plant-based diets the way it does re: the meat conversation.

2. A lot of the dietary “facts” Keith offers in this chapter, are based in assumptions related directly and indirectly to some kind of “paleo” diet, which Keith assumes (erroneously, if we look back at this article which takes us through the first-hand, peer reviewed sources Keith makes claims on but apparently hasn’t read) is based largely on meat. There is actually very little objective information about the diets our ancestors ate. The evidence we’ve found can only be speculated upon based on best guesses. This is the nature of paleontology– it’s the study of incomplete evidence. It’s an easy science to use, alongside evolution theory, if you’re trying to justify ideology. (Also see discussions here and here about how using the 3Ns– natural, normal, and necessary– is a classic way to couch bias and ideology.)

This New York Times article is worth reading: Evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk makes some valuable points about different “paleofantasies”– nostalgia for a non-existent time when humans ate a diet somehow “perfectly” suited to them. Some of her thoughts:

“In short, we have what the anthropologist Leslie Aiello called ‘paleofantasies.’ She was referring to stories about human evolution based on limited fossil evidence, but the term applies just as well to nostalgia for the very old days as a touchstone for the way life is supposed to be and why it sometimes feels so out of balance…The notion that there was a time of perfect adaptation, from which we’ve now deviated, is a caricature of the way evolution works.”

“How much of the diet during our idyllic hunter-gatherer past was meat, and what kind of plants and animals were used, varied widely in time and space. Inuits had different diets from Australian aboriginals or Neotropical forest dwellers. And we know little about the details of early family structure and other aspects of behavior. So the argument that we are “meant” to eat a certain proportion of meat, say, is highly questionable. Which of our human ancestors are we using as models?”

This article by Greg Downey builds on Zuk’s and makes some interesting points. That the “perfect” or “noble” savage had a diet “perfectly” in line with nature is, according to Downey, “an adaptionist fantasy”. He states: “Zuk draws on Leslie Aiello’s concept of ‘paleofantasies,’ stories about our past spun from thin evidence, to label the nostalgia some people seem to express for prehistoric conditions that they see as somehow healthier. In my research on sports and masculinity, I frequently see paleofantasies come up around fight sports, the idea that, before civilization hemmed us in and blunted our instincts, we would just punch each other if we got angry, and somehow this was healthier, freer and more natural (the problems with this view being so many that I refuse to even begin to enumerate them). It’s an odd inversion on the usual Myth of Progress, the idea that things always get better and better; instead, paleofantasies are a kind of long range projection of Grumpy Old Man Syndrome (‘Things were so much better in MY day…’), spinning fantasies of ‘life before’ everything we have built up around us… So before we start waxing nostalgic about all the health benefits of a Pleistocene diet, perhaps we should remember that our ancestors’ food often came in this nasty packaging which tended to run away, attack them, or just go missing entirely when they were really hungry.”

3. It’s noteworthy, and upsetting, that Keith– supposedly a radical feminist– keeps citing from authors who are in some way proponents of fad diets, weight training, getting thin, anti-aging therapies, etc. We are radicals who see the intersections between animal rights and feminism, and we don’t trust things that come out of the mainstream “diet” industry, or support things that play a role in women hating the way they look. We thought Keith– veganism aside–supported women in this way, too. Why in the world is she giving so much credence and attention to these resources? And how, after all this, does she have the nerve, in other chapters, to a) simplistically critique vegans as eating disordered and b) conveniently reference Naomi Woolf’s The Beauty Myth, a groundbreaking and highly regarded deconstruction of the misogynist diet and beauty industry? For all of the energy she puts towards proclaiming all vegans as anorexics, she conveniently fails to discuss the connections between anorexia and low-carb, high-meat fad diets (whether it’s the atkins, the paleo, the south beach, or any other play on this theme), as well as the connections between low-carb diets, fad diets, long-term lack of satiety, and how this can incite bingeing and purging.

Not to harp on it, but this is doubly infuriating, since Keith and many of her positive reviewers (see amazon.com) “beg” us (see chapter one) to just trust her and give her the benefit of the doubt as a seasoned radical. We thought this was supposed to be a book about radical ecology, agriculture, vegetarianism, and meat-eating. What we find, instead, is a book that is subtly based upon– indeed, permeated with–information from quick-fix diet cures that prey on insecure people, brand-name diets with profit motives, and Atkins-style/”paleo” diet fads that help the both the meat and the woman-hating diet industries profit… and are, by a preponderance of the most reliable medical evidence avaliable, definitley unbalanced and most likely unhealthy in the long-term. All of this is couched in passionate–and patronizing– language about compassion, ecology, liberation, and the ignorance of vegans. She even says “duh” more than once in this book. Throw is kas-laamal, the idea she uses to state that vegans think like children, and it’s really hard to not envision Keith as a domineering, mocking, and psychologically abusive mother.


Chapter 2: What about inter-dependency?

July 17, 2010

What about inter-dependency?

Keith writes in chapter two: “I’ve had it backward all these years. I’m not exploiting them. They’re happy, safe, warm, and fed. I’m the one who’s miserable. Chickens won’t even walk in snow, let alone haul supplies to me. That wet drip sliding down my spine was like a cold jab of reality. Chickens have gotten humans to work for them. In exchange, they take care of us, but not by bringing us water. By providing food—meat and eggs—and a whole constellation of other activities useful for farms.” The ideas here are quite seductively presented, indeed. Stylistically, Keith is a very good writer. But this is another example of Keith making impossible claims. I feel I need to offer another, just as valid, way to frame the above example:

You’ve domesticated chickens and took them as “your own”, without their consent. You are the party with the privilege, weapons, technology, and power to do this. You and this chicken have not had equal hands in creating this. Probably, like most chickens, they were bred for the purpose of being instruments for humans ends. They didn’t ask you for help—you domesticated and took them, which inherently implies use of power—and they didn’t offer help in return. In fact you have no idea what they are or aren’t “asking” because you are not in their world. This is about as anthropomorphic as something can get– yet you reel against anthropomorphism again and again throughout this chapter. The chickens almost certainly, though, didn’t “ask” you to be killed for food; women don’t ask to be raped, slaves don’t ask to be “taken care of” by slave owners, and the fact that slave owners have decided they need slaves doesn’t mean they’ve all of a sudden become a slave too, the moment their slaves need to eat. The dominated party has no power. This above is a dominator-created, self-justifying narrative.

I understand I’m using language here that might be triggering. But if we are really being honest with outselves, I’d say this re-framing is just as valid, if not moreso, than Keith’s– valid enough to honestly consider. Remember, comparisons are not equations; no individual experience of violence can be equated to another, but I believe, if we are to have an egalitarian world, people need to consider the similarities that underlie most types of violence. Keith writes, “Domestication is not human domination.” She is wrong. Why? Because she leaves out “human privilege” here– the fact that a) we have a conscious ability to choose that does not, by any evidence, compare to the conscious abilities of other animals, and b) that we have developed unprecedented methods of power over all life, human and nonhuman– these methods have defined animal farming and agriculture in general. Humanity’s ability to dominate– domesticate– nature is the foundation of all agriculture, and it is a complete deviation from the rest of nature’s relationship to itself. The relationship between nonhumans and humans represents an unprecidented level of inequality and “power over”. We cannot conveniently pretend that we relate to nohuman animals and plants in the same manner that animal in plants in “nature” relate to each other–as Kieth goes on to speak of in the rest of the chapter. Her reasoning here is frightengly analogous to justifications of inter-human domination: Men and women need each other, and their heteronormative gender roles, to survive. Men need women to cook and clean, and women need men to earn the money. Slave owners end up depending on slaves to get the work done. Slaves depend on slave owners for food, shelter, and hopefully, they will not get beaten or killed. The capitalist depends on his workers to produce, the workers depend on the capitalist for a livelihood. Would we, especially those of us who define as radicals, accept this logic in any other situation? Would we insist that these relationships are just and reciporical, instead of calling them out for clearly exploitative and dominator-defined relationships that they are?

This all plays on the myth of the 3 Ns: Natural, Normal, and Necessary. All power-over ideologies have used this myth to justify violence. Slaves and Jews have smaller brains than whites. It’s the white man’s burden- we have to take care of them. Women have smaller brains than men, so they aren’t as smart, and smaller bodies that are not fit for sports and exertion. They’re naturally ruled by their emotions and it’s normal for them to get hysterical, that’s just who they are. Indigenous people are naturally simple and aren’t able to build civilizations. Aryans are naturally a dominant race and are meant to rule the world. Humans are natural hunters. Men have a natural propensity for violence because of their testosterone; it’s normal. They can’t control themselves when they see a woman in a short skirt who is asking for it. It’s just not natural for two men to marry! It’s not natural for people to get sex changes– it’s just not normal! It’s a mental illness! It’s against god’s will! It’s necessary for men and women to be together so they can pro-create. It’s necessary to have cops and armies to protect us. Humans have always been at war with each other, it’s unfortunate but it’s a part of who we are. Domination is just a natural part of life. It’s normal to drive my car everywhere and have a big house… this is just how we all live. Man is naturally higher than all species and is meant to dominate the earth. It’s necessary to eat meat to survive. Cows were meant to be eaten. It’s normal to eat meat, everyone’s always done it. It’s natural to eat meat, our ancestors did it. Look at all the charts we have to prove it. If you’re a vegan, you are a deviation from what’s normal, necessary, and natural– you must have psychological problems, you must be so unhealthy, you must have an eating disorder.

The 3Ns allow us to erase the complicatedness of violence and oppression. They let us off the hook. They’re a quick fix to the existential problem of having choices, agency, and critical thinking capacities. In short, they maintain and protect the status quo, enable it to remain unquestioned.


Carolyn reads chapter one: part two

July 15, 2010

Claims about health
Page 9: “But I’m also writing this book as a cautionary tale. A vegetarian diet—especially a low-fat version, and most especially a vegan one—is  sufficient nutrition for long-term maintenance and repair of the human body. To put it bluntly, it will damage you. I know.” She goes on to talk about her negative experience with veganism, in terms of health. Here we go. Once again, Keith just “knows” and expects us to just trust her (after she’s repeatedly insulted us no less.) But once again, personal anecdote cannot be substituted for fact and, once again, the healthiness of different kinds of diets is an issue that, in the most “objective” of scientific communities, is up for serious debate. If you do a simple google search right on “human as omnivore”, you will find innumerable amounts of information regarding this complicated debate.

Suffice it to say, vegans can be healthy or unhealthy or somewhere in between. Keith’s bones, stomach, and other various parts were unhealthy, and no one should have to go through that. She was also depressed and anxious, which all of us can relate to. But again, she offers no evidence that this was related to veganism or not. I don’t doubt that her experience of feeling better when eating meat is true for her, but again, it becomes an argumentative fallacy since it leaves out the possibility of third party or extraneous variables. Any apathetic, hungover undergrad who has to get up at 8AM to go to Research and Statistics 101 knows that correlation does not equal causation. In regards to mental health, Keith does state the following: “And now I know why. Serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan. And there are no good plant sources of tryptophan. On top of that, all the tryptophan in the world won’t do you any good without saturated fat, which is necessary to make your neurotransmitters actually transmit.” But there are plenty of plant sources for saturated fat. Furthermore, it is straight-up untrue that tryptophan is hard to come by in plant sources. This is another fallacy often argued against veganism: that just because there are lots of animal sources for certain nutrients, there are no plant ones, or that the plant sources somehow have a different “type” or quality of said nutrient. Untrue. She seems unreasonably determined to blame her problems on veganism, as in the statement “if end up with cancer in my reproductive organs, I’m blaming soy.” Additionally, she is falsely equating veganism with soy conspumtion. Here, I offer a couple potential third party variables that could account for her health problems: familial health history/genes, being an angsty and hormonal teenager, being an unhealthy person in regards to food, the HPV virus which many people get through sexual contact and can lead to reproductive cancers, and environmental factors like pollution and toxins (never underestimate the unknown when it comes to this issue- for instance, my high school was built on a superfund site!)

Additionally, because veganism is a non-mainstream diet that even doctors and nutritionists don’t know much about (to be liscenced in the US, they must be educated under the USDA “food pyramid” model, which is largely based carnism and meat industry politics) it is easy to assume that veganism is the source of health problems when something goes wrong. Let me reinforce that I understand veganism can be unhealthy, if executed badly—like any diet. But Keith’s argument here is again based on assumption and anecdote and offers basically no scientifically or ethically valuable, solid information as to the healthiness of either a vegan or carnist diet.

For my part, the following things aren’t “proof” either, but can maybe give some needed balance: This guy’s not unhealthy. These people might be totally marginal in their own way but they don’t exactly apply to the stereotype Keith paints. For what it’s worth, their problematic politics admitted, the Amerian Dietary Association has done extensive research and concluded that one can be perfectly healthy on a vegan diet. On the other hand, people with adult-onset diabetes might die soon soon for reasons that are, by most educated guesses, in some way related to meat consumption; and it’s common knowledge that eating meat is often related to heart attacks. These are extremes and my guess is most of us fall in the middle, animal products or not. As a vegan, my personal belief is that most diets, so long as they include a balance of protein, fats, essential nutrients, and micronutrients, can be healthy—even a carnist diet. But I think all this could be beside the point. Vegans argue that humans are “natural” plant-eaters, carnists argue the opposite– both, largely, to support their ideologies. I do not use health arguments when advocating veganism for all these reaons. I think the controversial and unresolved question of health is often a distraction from the ethical issues issues that are almost impossibly hard to reconcile. Because of their difficulty, many of us throw these out the window altogether, but that doesn’t make them go away: I’m talking about issues regarding the domination, killing, and keeping captive of individual sentient animals.

We will talk about many more erroneous health claims when we explore TVM’s specific chapter on health.

Oh, Lierre…
Finally, page 11: “If I’m questioning your lifestyle, your identity, you might feel confusion, fear, and anger while reading this book. But take my word: you don’t want to end up like me. I’m asking you to stay the course, read this book, and explore the resources in the appendix. Please. Especially if you have children or want to. I’m not too proud to beg.”

Let me just say that, since a very small percentage of people are vegan, most of the beings in my life– my family, my partner, my house mates, my beloved feline and canine friends, many of my most respected human friends, professors, and mentors– are vegetarians or carnists. I do not get angry with them (the human ones) when they want to explore veganism me, when they are curious or critical. In fact, I love them very much and see them as complicated, compassionate people struggling with innumerable complicated questions. We have very calm conversations. Just this week I had two. They tell me why they eat what they eat, and I tell them why I’m vegan, and generally we are both the better for it because we respect each other and are having real dialogue in which we are assuming the other is coming from their best place. Maybe you don’t believe me, Lierre, because it doesn’t sound like this was ever your experience. But your experience is not the objective truth nor do you get to make sweeping claims about veganism because you were a vegan for two decades. This doesn’t give you extra “points”. This book, while completely complicating carnism (fair enough—meat eating is complicated), is framed with little to no respect for the various complicated theories and practices of veganism. It’s a one-sided polemic that leaves no room for reasonable dialogue. Vegans are literally written of as ignorant children, and that’s the end of it. What are people who disagree, or just want to engage in critical conversation, supposed to do with this? We have been defined and written out of the argument from the start. To me, this is a scary tactic that doesn’t deserve a place in radical debate. In the language of anarcho-feminism and some brands of ecofeminism, this tactic arguably enacts a patriarchal paradigm of “power over” as opposed to egalitarian one of “power with” and “power to”.

But you’re right, I’m angry reading this. I’m sure I have defenses I’m not conscious of; I am an emotional person known for having my fair share of knee-jerk emotional reactions; also, I identify very strongly as a vegan. (It seems most people who have conscious food politics identify very strongly with them, because they dictate a lifestyle… Lierre, you can’t possibly believe you’re exempt this?) But could you consider that my anger might be because you just made an extended analysis of my ignorance, my childish mind, and my lack of information? That you’ve erased those who disagree with you and literally do not see us as equals? Perhaps you are being as patronizing and self-righteous now as you, yourself, claim to have been when you were vegan? We’re eleven pages in, and already I feel no reason to give you, Leirre Keith, the benefit of the doubt. But I want to be fair and finish the book; after all, I consider myself a nuanced and open-minded adult, even if you don’t. Will you look past your own nose and hear us out in return—or at least respect us as intellectual equals? Will you consider a very valid critique of your research methods? Will you consider that there might be more than one “way”? Will you consider that veganism might exist beyond your personal experience and practice of it– that it is multitudes more complicated that you are painting it? Because that flavor of openness really where we have the potential to come together and start figuring things out. We have lots of things to come together on. I want to be in solidarity with you and your friends. I’m not too proud to beg.