Guest Post #1: “The reason veganism is still relevant to me is that animals are still relevant to me.”

May 28, 2012

The first guest post comes from A.V.B. in Lawrence, Kansas.

There isn’t an exact date of when I decided to go vegan (because I transitioned slowly) but it was about 10 years ago when I was a kid in high school. I was vegetarian for about a year and a half before that.  To say that I chose to make these life changes for any other reason other than ethical ones would be disingenuous. To say that my convictions around my motivations have done anything but intensified over the past decade would be an all out lie. Let’s be clear: the only issue that motivated me to make that lifestyle change was the ethical imperative I knew I had the moment I really realized that meat came from the flesh of a once living animal. To be totally honest, it was a nice coincidence that veganism is healthier than meat-eating.  But make no mistake, even if being vegan wasn’t the healthiest thing I could do for my body, I still would have made the same choice.

I’m not trying to claim to have an open mind to the arguments often spoken by locavores/food politics junkies because the animals are necessarily left out of those conversations. I absolutely disagree with arguments that describe veganism as ineffectual. Every time individuals choose to not put the flesh of another creature inside their own bodies, that means something profound. I know many radicals scoff at symbolic victories and think they don’t mean anything or matter.  But fuck that. That’s so capitalist I can’t even handle it. Things don’t always have to be concrete to matter. There doesn’t always need to be a “real” or “proven” outcome for an act for it to matter. Yes, I do think it’s wasteful and shortsighted for vegans to exclusively eat products that contain large amounts of packaging/processing and not think about the impact of those food choices or how animals are affected by deforestation, landfills, and other forms of environmental degradation. But you cannot discount the statement that is made when an individual chooses to not eat the carcass of a (at-one-time) living being.

I know there isn’t a one size fits all approach to veganism, and I don’t think there should be. But I do think the suffering animals endure should be a large part of the conversation. The reason veganism is still relevant to me is that animals are still relevant to me. I am, after all, an animal and, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The only reason I’ve continued to deal with racist folks, messed up Utilitarians, sexist and sizest comments from both within and outside the vegan community, is because the only thing that matters to me is the fact that I try, with all my might, to keep animals and their byproducts out of my body. I know I’m not perfect, and I’ve had too many conversations about “where I draw the line”– I’ve made that line as clearly defined as possible. I don’t ask for perfection, nor should anyone. I think that everyone should try as hard as possible to think about animals, put themselves in their place, to open their hearts, and make decisions that can minimize the harm humans inflict on animals.

My sister recently gave a presentation to a group of locavores-artists (one artist was going to have five chickens displayed around town in a coop and then publicly slaughter them at the end of the month to “connect people to their food”) and she illuminated something that I had always known but not considered quite so simply. Thousands of years ago, most of the nonhumans on earth were able to live their lives according to the reasons they were meant to exist. But in this current era, humans/men have violently transformed this. We removed animals from their environments, or altered them drastically based on our other actions (domesticated cats/dogs/rabbits/etc, warmed the ocean so much that the Antarctic glaciers are melting, cut down the forests for cheap palm oil, “developed” land in the name of “modernization,” etc.) and then we said, “your purpose in life is to be there for me, for I am human and I am the only thing that matters.” We’ve said with our actions “your sole purpose for existing is now mine. Your life’s purpose and value is only to provide something for me: convenience, flavor, entertainment, companionship, a method to test chemicals, anything I want. I control you.”

And this land of the “free” is one of the worst offenders. I don’t want to be an animal that expects this of any other animal. I want to let others live as they should live. Humans consume 100 billion animals worldwide every year (there are ~7 billion humans on Earth). There is just no argument that a nonvegan can make to justify this. Vegans don’t contribute to this number, and there is value in that. As unfathomable as this number is, even it relates only to the end process: death. This number says nothing about the suffering each and every one of those living creatures experienced to be the flesh we consumed, or the flesh we purchased at the store and then threw away because it went bad/we didn’t like the taste/was recalled for e. coli etc.

Despite what some people may try to claim, all humans know that nonhumans suffer.  We may not know exactly how, but that’s irrelevant. We don’t need scientific studies or “authorities” to tell us this. We just need to make rational choices that come from an open heart. Animals suffer, we know that.  Therefore, we should not eat them or use them for any other purpose humans find relevant. It’s really that simple.


Guest Posts

May 28, 2012

Over the next few days, we will be posting a series of guest essays from our friends and readers. Our goal with this short series was to broaden the number and kind of voices represented on our blog. We asked our essayists a fairly personal question: given the current trend in radical critiques of food production and distribution systems (some of which include radical [and “radical”] critiques of veganism), how do you integrate veganism into your life as part of an explicitly radical praxis and why? Or, more simply put, does veganism still have political will?

We are pleased by the diversity of the authors and the content of their essays and we hope you will enjoy them as much as we have. If you are interested in submitting a guest essay, please send it our way.


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.


1000+ Italian Activists Liberate Beagle Puppies in Daylight Raid

April 30, 2012

On April 28th, World Day for Animals in Laboratories, Italian animal liberation activists staged a daylight raid of the Green Hill Breeders complex in Northern Italy, freeing 25 to 40 beagles in the process.  All but one of the dogs are puppies.  Green Hill, owned by Marshall Farms Inc., is one of the largest European breeding facilities for nonhuman animals bred for vivisection.  Green Hill, which sells “purpose bred” dogs for up to $1,200, keeps 2,500 dogs on site at any given time and harbors ambitions of expanding its facilities to contain 5,000.  Green Hill breeds dogs to order for customers like Huntingdon Life Sciences, who can pay for extra “features,” like dogs with their vocal chords removed so they cannot scream when experimented upon.

See video of the raid here.

Since the closing of Italy’s other laboratory dog breeding facility, Italian activists have gone hard after Green Hill.  The campaign has employed a diverse array of tactics, ranging from letter writing and petitions to legal challenges and public demonstrations.  Daylight raids like the one that occurred on Saturday are not in themselves unprecedented, but the sheer size of this one is a definite first.  On the heels of this action, hackers acting under the umbrella of Anonymous have begun to take down and subvert websites owned by companies “who derive profit from the blood and the suffering of animals,” using the hashtags #OpItaly, #OpSaveAnimals and #OpGreenRights.

Activists scale the barbed wire fence surrounding Green Hill Breeders

It remains to be seen how the Italian government will respond to this escalation in the grass roots campaign against vivisection.  12 individuals were arrested at the raid on Saturday but it’s not yet clear how keen Italy is on following the United States’ suit on applying terrorism enhancements to a situation like this.  Some European states have tended to tolerate occasional daylight raids as long as they don’t occur too frequently or stray too far from the symbolic.  Four dogs would have been one thing, but forty?  When activists in England began using open raids to great effect during the 1980s, the state began to apply “conspiracy to burgle” charges to as many activists as possible in order to drain energy and funds from the movement (chronicled in Against All Odds).

An interior view of Green Hill’s kennels

It will be interesting to see how the campaign against Green Hill continues to play out.  The story has only just begun to escape Italian news services and into international social media, blogs and online petition sites (1, 2).  Wider coverage will not be far behind and this bodes poorly for a company like Green Hill.  The discussion of animal rights as they pertain to food politics has been forced into the mainstream of late, but vivisection is an industry with a history of desperate resistance to public visibility.  The brazenness of this raid is captivating and the images that have come out so far are profoundly moving.  Perhaps we will be seeing more of these daylight raids moving forward, particularly given how easy it has become to organize a flash mob using social media.  It is to be hoped that Italian animal liberationists will be able to both weather the state’s response to their act of mass conscience and to leverage the ensuing global attention to close down Green Hill once and for all.  Whatever happens next, I’m pretty sure it’s already worth it.


The basic must-knows of carnism and neocarnism

March 7, 2012

Melanie Joy’s celebrated presentation on carnism and the psychology of meat-eating is finally online in its entirety. If I could have people watch or read one thing about animal rights, it would probably be this. It’s about an hour long and truly worth engaging with if you’ve got some free time. Melanie Joy is an extremely articulate and brilliant animal, and I believe her work is at the forefront of animal liberation philosophy and practice.

I think it’s important to note that in some societies meat-eating is not a choice, but truly a matter of survival. We have to discuss this carefully. Many people are frankly offensive when they talk about what “survival” does and doesn’t mean in terms of food. In my experience, many folks use the word “survival” not to connote actual, literal life-and-death situations, but to justify chosen behaviors. The classic carnistic protein myth–that one needs protein to survive and that meat is the only good source of protein–is a perfect example of this. One simply needs protein to survive and, save extremely rare physiological conditions that you almost definitely don’t have, one can get all of the protein they need from plants. Another good example of the faulty invocation of food-related survival is when we use words like “omnivory”, a necessary practice, to refer to what is actually carnism, a set of choices and beliefs. We’re calling upon the naturalist fallacy here to justify chosen behaviors and beliefs. Biologically speaking, we are not obligate omnivores. We will not die or get sick without meat. Therefore it is more accurate to refer to meat-eating as an ism or ideology, just as we do with veganism.

So when I say that some peoples use meat for survival, I don’t mean folks debating whether human teeth were “made” for slicing and chomping meat and deciding in the affirmative; I don’t mean the oft-spouted fallacy that we must eat meat to get all of our essential nutrients and amino acids; I don’t mean various vague, often new-age, often inexplicable “intuitions” that it just feels better to eat meat and that this is the only information one should need to make ethical decisions. By “survival”, I mean that a person has no other choices. Some Inuit peoples might represent an example of this: in most Arctic climates plants cannot grow, and for some traditional Inuits, it is virtually impossible to even get to locations where there is access to a larger variety of foods. Unfortunately, and absurdly, many meat-eaters use this extremely harsh survival situation to justify their first-world meat-eating. I’ll draw another example from current personal experience: right now, I am a teacher for Burmese refugees and political exiles who, at times, have had to escape into the forest for long stretches with no food at all. If they come upon meat and eat it, that is survival. Survival is pre-moral because survival is not a choice and is therefore not based on beliefs and ideology.

So, to talk about both carnism and veganism, we must recognize the differences between survival and the luxury of choice.

These survival scenarios couldn’t be more different from a person– like most of us reading this blog– in the “developed” world who has some level of informed choice over what they eat.

These scenarios couldn’t be more different from somebody who chooses to have chickens in their front yard in Brooklyn or Boulder instead of growing a vegetable garden.

These scenarios couldn’t be more different than a farmer making the choice to farm animals instead of plants.

These scenarios couldn’t be more different from somebody who chooses to buy flesh or eggs instead of legumes and vegetables at the grocery store or farmer’s market.

These scenarios couldn’t be more different from somebody who chooses to eat locally slaughtered pigs instead of locally grown vegetable products.

I have a bias: I feel flustered and offended that such situations are framed as survival to so many meat-eaters, when there are about a billion people in the world who have no food at all, and the mass existence of non-necessary, first-world carnism is so destructive to the world and everyone’s food supply at large. Let alone the fact that with the luxury of choices comes the incredible ability to enable the survival of others by not eating them.

The point is this: Basic survival is not a matter of ethics. Chosen behaviors, including most meat-eating, are. They have their roots in complex ideology. For most people, meat-eating is based on carefully-constructed, mutually-reinforcing cognitions and actions. And since most people are good people who don’t want to cause unnecessary suffering, to unnecessarily eat meat requires complicated feats of cognitive dissonance. Simply put, the core identity as a nonviolent person, on one hand, and the behaviors, on the other, of most carnists don’t match up. Not even the kindest person in the world can eat meat without engaging in violence. Carnists must use complicated defense mechanisms to navigate this disconnect. Those defense mechanisms become the basis of an entire ideology structured around meat-eating. This ideology, like all ideologies of the dominant culture– patriarchy, white supremacy, ecocide, capitalism, heterosexism– remains largely invisible and taken for granted.

This is, in my eyes, the core of Melanie’s research and teachings: that almost all people identify, consciously or not, as non-violent people. They would generally never harm another human except in perceived self-defense; they wouldn’t harm the vast majority of most nonhumans, either. They only harm those seven or eight species–out of hundreds of thousands–who fall into the tiny, culturally-constructed group of “edible animals” (in US culture, this groups consists basically of cows, pigs, lambs, a couple types of bird, and a couple fish and crustacean species. The “edible animals” group changes from culture to culture but always remains tiny.) We are compassionate, empathetic, and creative creatures, yet we make choices several times a day–some people, every time they eat–that have unnecessary suffering and death at their core; we are gentle and full of love, yet for some of us, the only contact we ever have with fellow creatures is literally as so many dead body parts on a plate. We use the ideology of carnism and its attendant defense mechanisms to maintain this disconnect. We shut down, we justify, we deny, we intellectualize, we look away, we naturalize, we objectify, precisely because we care and are good people.

Since Melanie talks about this in much more detail and with much more eloquence, you should watch the video to learn more about the intricacies of how we, as cultures and individuals, banish the realities of meat from our awareness so successfully. I think both carnists and vegans and everyone in-between will get a lot out of it.

Melanie has also recently published an illuminating article that touches on many of the issues in this blog, entitled Understanding Neocarnism: How Vegan Advocates Can Appreciate and Respond to “Happy Meat”, Locovorism, and “Paleo Dieting”.  She breaks down the psychology, cognitive dissonance, and defensiveness behind three issues central to neocarnist ideology: compassionate carnism (humane meat), ecocarnism (carnism for ecology’s sake), and biocarnism (carnism as biological imperative). She frames neocarnism as a backlash against veganism– which, in some respects, we should take as a positive sign that veganism is working as a movement. Unsuccessful movements do not inspire backlash.

Watch it. Read it. Love you.

C


Let’s move this conversation forward; or, (another) study: pasture-raised cows produce four times more methane emissions than feedlot cows

January 23, 2012

A new study confirms higher rates of methane emission from grazed cows over feedlot cows. Abstract and full study available here:

Direct measurements of methane emissions from grazing and feedlot cattle

This study, citing and building on studies which already demonstrate that cattle farming represents a mass contribution to the emission of methane–one of the most consequential greenhouse gasses–examined and measured output from large samples of cattle in undisturbed (non-laboratory/non-constructed) settings.

Its main conclusion: “These measurements clearly document higher CH4 production (about four times) for cattle receiving low-quality, high-fiber diets than for cattle fed high-grain diets.”

To advocates of pasture-raised beef and dairy: Please start discussing this kind of information and please stop spreading the myth that pasture-raised beef is good for the environment. That there are a lot of problems with agriculture-in-general, including plant agriculture and monocultures, is not in dispute. But from the mass destruction caused by grazing, to the mass methane emissions, raising animals on pasture is not simply detrimental; it’s more detrimental than on feedlots, in terms of land/habitat destruction and greenhouse gas emissions.

This article by Mike Tidwell was recently brought to my attention, and impressed me as a very good, simple overview of the environmental impact of carnism, on humans as well as ecosystems and individual animals. Tidwell points out that even many folks’ beloved fall-back, “free range” and “sustainable” chicken and egg farming, produces far more greenhouse gas emissions than its terrible factory-farming sibling– 14 percent more!

This is to say nothing of the myth of “humane” meat that we have discussed elsewhere.

We’ve listened to the “humane” meat-ers. We’ve listened to the Weston A. Price Foundation’s non-scientists and non-nutritionists misconstrue information about teeth, soy, cholesterol, and raw meat. We’ve listened to Lierre Keith straight-up hate on vegans and paint caricatures of health and sustainable agriculture. We’ve listened to Michael Pollan and Joe Salatin’s carefully (and conveniently) constructed happy-meat, return-to-pasture narratives. We’ve listened to people who don’t come from gatherer-hunter cultures say, “let’s hunt, then!” and we’ve tried not to be dicks when we’ve pointed out that, if even a fraction of billions of today’s non-tribal humans started hunting for their meat, ecosystems would almost immediately shatter. We’ve listened to Barabara Kingslover as she drives 3,000 miles in her car to eat another location’s local food. We’ve listened to really excited ex-vegan bloggers talk about how they literally feel the energy of nutrients x, y, and z rushing through their body the minute they eat meat again for the first time (something which isn’t physiologically possible.) We’ve gotten a good share of what anti-vegans–both the subtle and the not-so-subtle ones–have to say. For all our faults and snark, we’ve tried to listen–we actually really have.

And for all of this, there’s one thing they all seem to say some version of, and I agree with it: We need better, more diverse, more creative, less mono-culture based farming methods. Nobody here is saying otherwise.

But it’s time to move the conversation forward: the ethics of, and cognitive dissonance that is necessary for, “humane meat”, grass-fed meat, and pasture farming are highly questionable; and we have to contend with those questions now if we want to deal with the crises of ecology, psychology, and ethics that are literally destroying the earth.

There is, at this point, simply too much available information to ignore regarding the destructiveness of animal farming and the unnecessary suffering of animals. There is too much information to ignore regarding the existence of viable, healthful, plant-based alternatives to meat diets and animal farming. We can’t continue to ignore this information if we want to have conversations about diet that aren’t disingenuous. We can’t refuse to discuss the fallacy, the gaping logical inconsistency, of “humane” captivity and slaughter, and the environmental destruction of animal farming–the latter of which is an issue for both entire species and their individual bodies. We can’t keep falling back on the simplistic vegan straw man of “but monocultures–but soy–but the paleocene–but protein”. These straw-men have been debunked to death. Healthful, animal-friendly plant-based alternatives to this mess of meat agriculture and carnism exist, right now, today. Just because these plant-based alternatives are inconvenient to a Western culture that is steeped in the ideologies and practices of meat, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Our refusal to look at them does not erase their reality.

If you need more information about any of these issues or about striving towards sustainable plant-based lives, we’ve discussed it a lot in this blog. Please refer to other posts such as those here and here, do a quick google or JSTOR search, or refer to our resources page or our sustainable vegan agriculture page. You might also consider checking out The Humane Myth.


PaleoVegan say it’s curtains for the Expensive Tissue Hypothesis; Carolyn jams out on sociobiology and violence

November 29, 2011

This is worth a re-post. Once again the brilliant pre-frontal cortex over at PaleoVeganology has done some wonderful reporting and analysis. This time it is regarding a new study that appears to put the Expensive Tissue Hypothesis to rest once and for all. He also discusses, among other things, the history of this hypothesis and how it was never meant to encompass such simplicities as “meat made us smart” or “meat made us human”. Alas, as ideologies compete to be representative of the most “natural” and therefore most “normal” and “necessary” way to be, many paleodieters and other carnists have relied heavily on this hypothesis for their arguments.

But as we leave ETH’s funeral, we shouldn’t just clap our hands and embody everything we argue against by saying, “SEE? It’s NATURAL to be vegan! Science has proved it!” That’s not what this is about. Rather, the way that the ETH has been used by carnists represents a phenomenon: Our unwillingness to accept responsibility for our choices, or to even admit that we have choices. This Normal, Natural, Necessary brand of logic has been used to uphold almost every type of unnecessary violence in human history, and pseudo-science has often accompanied it. We’ve written about this extensively elsewhere in our blog including here, here and here. Science is wonderful and liberating when it’s used how it’s supposed to be used (as Paleovegan uses it): as a method; as a critical thinking tool, as a path by which to ask questions, open doors, admit we’re wrong, assess, reassess, make connections, get awestruck, and hopefully figure out a thing or two in the process. But leaving our complicated social and psychological choices to vague arguments about “nature” and cherry-picked data isn’t science; it amounts to little more than sociobiology, rationalization, and dangerously lazy thinking.

We don’t need to say “veganism is natural” or “meat eating is not natural” in order to make good arguments for veganism; if we do that, we are falling prey to dangerous and convenient sociobiological arguments. Sociobiology is the study of the “biological sources of social behavior.” And sociobiology should always be questioned, for it has generally not amounted to much more than biological determinism. It is the editorializing of science. It is taking objective biological facts and assuming that certain subjective behaviors can and do extend from them. From there, there’s usually some kind of sticky, subtle moral leap: This ancestor ate meat, so we should too, in fact we’re stupid if we don’t. Men are bigger than women, and women are reproductive machines, so that’s why men rape. Animals kill each other, so it’s natural for us to be at war, and we’ll never not be at war because we are just naturally aggressive.  Homosexuality is an aberration because it doesn’t lead to reproduction (OR homosexuality is evolutionarily smart because it staves off overpopulation… how about homosexuals just exist because they love each other?) Women have smaller brains, so of course they’re not as intelligent. There’s a scientific explanation for everything, right?? But many people believe that sociobiology is little more than racism, sexism, and other violence wearing science’s clothes.

In short, we should carefully distinguish between science and sociobiology, and the latter should, if not scare the pants off anybody who wants to change the world, at least make them really weary.

Now, here’s some actual science: Humans have big brains relative to other species, and in particular, a big frontal cortex. When you have the kind of frontal cortex a human does you are able to make all kinds of complicated assessments and choices. And here’s my wish, given that fact: Let’s work with what we have, and celebrate our ability to make conscious choices, and our ability to do the least harm…and let’s stop worrying so much about which of our ancestors ate what and who and when. While we’re at it, let’s stop worrying about a gold-standard perfect diet and, by extension, perfect health and immortality, because those things don’t exist, and never have.

Anyways, the historical truth about food, as usual, is messy; some humans ate some types of meat at some point, others ate other things, and there are a thousand scenarios, motivations, and ecologies to be accounted for. But even if there were one answer as to what our paleolithic ancestors ate, it would be irrelevant. Because we are not paleolithic. Because we have to worry about ourselves, now. Today. 7 billion humans, industrialization, capitalism, ecocide, 2011, hundreds of billions of unnecessary nonhuman deaths, constant war. And, among other things, a whole bunch of us who deny that we are regularly making choices–not just being whipped around by some mysteriously undefined inkling called, conveniently, “nature”. Like it or not, this is what we’re working with. Let’s be present with our situation instead of copping out by slipping into simplistic, irrelevant, and ultimately impossible fantasy re-creations of the past.