Problems with Focusing on Convenience and Taste in Animal Justice Work

Hi, folks! Today I want to expand upon a point that I made fairly briefly in my “Veganism & Consumerism” post way back in December–a point critiquing animal activism that focuses on increasing the availability of vegan products:

“[Vegan consumerism re-centers] the human experience; in other words, vegan consumerism becomes a project to benefit humans who eat a vegan diet rather than other animals oppressed by speciesism, and thereby proves completely ineffective in manifesting a world in which humans no longer view other animals (including other human animals) as commodities for our use. Kelly Atlas of the fantastic anti-speciesist organization Direct Action Everywhere explains that actively advocating for humans to engage in vegan consumer behavior – i.e., to demand vegan products over animals products, and to encourage others to do the same – focuses attention on the comfort and convenience of humans, while upholding a framing of other animals as commodities (undesirable ones, but still…).”

To directly quote Atlas: “We can’t make not hurting innocent animals a matter of how convenient and pleasurable it is for the human to abstain from that violence […]. We have to demand liberation for the nonhuman victims, not plant-based options for the human oppressors.”

Sure, I love me some Chaos cheese and Vegenaise as much as the next vegan consumer, but if my animal justice work stops at making such products more widely available, I’m merely making the world more comfortable for myself, not less speciesist against non-human animals. I mean, certainly no one is going to stop eating animals for the long-term simply by seeing vegan convenience products in the grocery store. And even if they did, without an understanding of anti-speciesism, they would almost definitely continue to perpetuate oppressive ideologies against non-human animals.

Heck, I know plenty of people who eat only vegan food but — from what I can discern — still understand non-human animals to exist on this planet for the sole purpose of human use, or think of themselves as “saviors” of (and therefore superior to) non-human animals. They might refer to themselves as the “owners” of their companion animals, they might dress up those companion animals, they might support wildlife culls in the name of “biodiversity,” they might eat the eggs that come from chickens, geese, ducks, and turkeys who life on sanctuaries, etc.

And we all engage in similar behaviors to a certain extent, right? Because we don’t act in these harmful ways out of individual biases or shortcomings, but rather because virtually all of us have been indoctrinated into a speciesist system. That’s why vegan eating must exist as a manifestation of a radical anti-speciesist politics, rather than as an end goal in and of itself.

In my view, telling people that “eating vegan is so easy!,” or “vegan food is everywhere nowadays!” — focusing on the consumer aspect of why someone would adopt a vegan diet — as an argument for why we should stop eating animals upholds that speciesist system, not to mention dismisses people in circumstances where, shocker, eating vegan actually isn’t easy, convenient, or readily available/accessible.

Those arguments uphold a speciesist system by making someone’s consideration of animals conditional upon how comfortable they are eating vegan food, and how tasty that vegan food is. So what happens if vegan convenience products disappear? What happens if vegan cheese goes back to tasting like squishy cardboard? Do we stop advocating for a shift in humans’ moral consideration of non-human animals? Anti-speciesism must be our priority, while our ability to eat yummy food can come later.

Additionally, those arguments discount those who don’t live in a consumer paradise, or don’t have financial or cultural access to that consumer paradise. A position of more inclusive anti-oppression work is accessible to everyone, while a position of specialized consumption is not.

So let’s put vegan eating where it deserves to be in importance: behind radical anti-speciesism. Because I don’t care about soy ice cream nearly as much as I care about folks like Tyrion, Sansa, Amy, Gracie and the rest of the residents of Heartland Farm Sanctuary being able to enact their complex life-worlds free of exploitation by humans.

In solidarity, Ali.

Vegan Chews & Progressive News {7-3-15}

Chickpeas & Changes’s “Vegan Chews & Progressive News” series strives to promote artful vegan food and progressive discussion of social issues—both of which I view as necessary in fostering a society that prioritizes the well-being of all creatures (not just the rich, white, or human) over the continuous striving for profit/resource accumulation.

Just a reminder about the exciting news that Chickpeas & Change is now accepting submissions! I’m thrilled to be able to open this space up to voices from the anti-speciesist, feminist, anti-racist community. Check out this page for submission guidelines.

Hello, all! Today’s edition of Vegan Chews & Progressive News (# NewsandChews) features some truly artful nosh, including a pizza crust made out of crispy potatoes and a bubblegum-pink vegan French macaron ready to impress. Then, for news, I’m sharing a piece providing a critical, “let’s-celebrate-but-also-remember-how-much-work-still-needs-to-be-done” perspective on last week’s same-sex marriage SCOTUS decision, a video on why the onus should not fall on systemically oppressed people to “educate” others, and an exciting new anthology that’s seeking submissions. Onward!

Favorite Newly Published Recipe

Savory

Potato-Crusted Pizza with Garlic Scape Pesto & Squash Blossoms
Via Gratitude & Greens

Photo via Genevieve at Gratitude & Greens.

Photo via Genevieve at Gratitude & Greens.

Crispy potatoes, springtime produce, and the mystical squash blossom all in one truly creative pizza? Count me in!

Sweet

Raspberry-Rose Macarons
Via My Wife Makes

Photo via Amrita at My Wife Makes.

Photo via Amrita at My Wife Makes.

The latest in the ongoing aquafaba (chickpea liquid) meringue excitement! After numerous samplings of Sweet Maresa‘s life-changing vegan French macarons, I’m thrilled at the prospect of experimenting with my own.

Best Recipe I Made This Week

Banana Crumb Muffins
Via Minimalist Baker

Photo via Dana Schultz.

Photo via Dana Schultz.

With an overload of bananas in my summer cooperative house, what can one do but make banana bread? Drawing upon my childhood nostalgia, I whipped up a batch of banana-walnut muffins–veganized versions of the treat I enjoyed during every visit to my grandmother’s house. Predictably, the muffins disappeared in mere hours. Hurrah for co-op living!

Must-Read Article

Interrupting Pride for Black Lives
By Kelly Hayes at Truthout

Participants in the #BlackOutPride contingent rally the crowd as they march toward the site of their action. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Participants in the #BlackOutPride contingent rally the crowd as they march toward the site of their action. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

In light of the recent Supreme Court decision in support of same-sex marriage in the, it’s important to both celebrate, and to remember that we still have much to struggle for in order to fully enfranchise LGBTQ people in the U.S.

Favorite Podcast Episode or Video

Why Pressuring Someone to ‘Educate’ You About Their Struggles Is Oppression, Not Understanding
By Kat Blaque at Everyday Feminism

Photo via Kat Blaque.

Photo via Kat Blaque.

If ya’ll haven’t checked out the work of artist and activist Kat Blaque, I would highly recommend doing so. In her latest video, Kat explains why asking someone of a systemically marginalized group to “educate” you about the daily oppression they face contributes to that very oppressive power dynamic, and how to better go about working in solidarity with them.

Book Recommendation Awesome Projects You Should Totally Check Out

Call for Contributions to “Queering Animal Liberation,” VINE Sanctuary’s New Anthology
Via VINE Sanctuary

Anthology editors / Photo via VINE Sanctuary.

Anthology editors / Photo via VINE Sanctuary.

The fantastic, always intersectional activists and sanctuary caretakers over at VINE are at it again, this time in a brand new anthology on the important work of Queering Animal Liberation. Submit your stuff!

In solidarity, Ali.

Intersectional Vegan Activism Highlighted on Ep285 of the Our Hen House Podcast

Hi, folks! Thanks for all of the feedback on the (very inexpert) short story that I published last week. This week, instead of penning a full post, I want to point ya’ll toward the most recent episode of the Our Hen House podcast–which I hosted!

Photo via Our Hen House.

Photo via Our Hen House.

I’m thrilled to have been able to highlight radical, intersectional vegan activism and animal justice work on Episode 285 of the podcast, in large part by welcoming onto the show three incredible activists: queer activist and prison abolitionist Hana Low of the Colorado Anti-Violence Program; the Black Feminist Blogger herself Aph Ko; and Jacqueline Morr, founder and editor of the feminist vegan zineProject Intersect. Also  joining me to introduce our interviewees is my fellow vegan activist, classmate, and good friend Kaden Maguire, who works at both Catskill Animal Sanctuary and Treeline Cheese.

I hope that you listen, learn, and take to heart the episode.

In solidarity, Ali.

Vegan Chews & Progressive News {6-26-15}

Chickpeas & Changes’s “Vegan Chews & Progressive News” series strives to promote artful vegan food and progressive discussion of social issues—both of which I view as necessary in fostering a society that prioritizes the well-being of all creatures (not just the rich, white, or human) over the continuous striving for profit/resource accumulation.

Just a reminder about the exciting news that Chickpeas & Change is now accepting submissions! I’m thrilled to be able to open this space up to voices from the anti-speciesist, feminist, anti-racist community. Check out this page for submission guidelines.

Hi, everyone! It’s Friday and that means another edition of Vegan Chews & Progressive News (# NewsandChews). Today I’d like to share with ya’ll three very green, very flavorful recipes, as well as a surprisingly wonderful article about living with non-human animals whom we usually consider “pests,” coverage of Charleston by an on-the-ground journalist, and an organization seeking to cultivate radical reform in the U.S. school system. Ya’ll ready?

Favorite Newly Published Recipe

Savory

Tofu Green Curry
Via Harriet Emily

Photo via Harriet Emily.

Photo via Harriet Emily.

I normally pass by curry recipes since to me the dish screams for improvisation and spontaneity, but this verdant curry from Harriet Emily struck me with its crispy, salty-sweet tofu, tender broccoli, sweet peas, and super thick texture.

Sweet

Lime Whipped Cream, Blueberry & Sunbutter Granola Parfaits
Via The Vegan 8

Photo via Brandi at The Vegan 8.

Photo via Brandi at The Vegan 8.

Another green & coconutty recipe! Creamy desserts like ice cream, pudding, and whipped cream are certainly my favorites, but what really gets me about this parfait is the simple yet surprisingly original sunbutter-molasses granola. An ideal summer dessert, if you ask me.

Best Recipe I Made This Week

Rainbow Salad with Creamy Horseradish-Caraway Dressing
Inspired by Happyolks

Photo via Kelsey Boyte.

Photo via Kelsey Boyte.

For my turn at co-op dinner cooking last week, I wanted to make a veggie-packed kale salad with a Vegenaise-based dressing. So I threw some kale, red cabbage, carrots, radishes, raisins, and toasted peanuts into an enormous bowl and doused it all in a dressing adapted from Kelsey’s slaw: lemon juice, mustard, maple syrup, Vegenaise, caraway seeds, and horseradish. A huge hit with my housemates!

Must-Read Article(s)

Every Creeping Thing That Creepeth
By Alison Kinney at The New York Times

Photo via Getty Images.

Photo via Getty Images.

I’m hard-pressed to find writing on non-human animals (even from vegan advocates) that doesn’t refer to animals as “its” or otherwise objectify them, that doesn’t use animals as mere symbols for the human experience, and that truly appreciates animals as legitimate beings in their own right. Miraculously, this article by journalist Alison Kinney does! After living with cockroaches and housemates who didn’t want to be living with them, this article hits close to home (literally).

Favorite Podcast Episode or Video

Collier Meyerson on Charleston Shooting
Via Radio Dispatch

Photo via Collier Meyerson's Twitter.

Photo via Collier Meyerson’s Twitter.

In the midst of Charleston reporting that centers murderer Dylan Roof (thus giving him more power) rather than focusing on the community’s response, as well as media that refuses to refer to Roof as a terrorist, Collier Meyerson’s discussion of the current state of Charleston and its broader implications is refreshing and necessary. Give it a listen.

Book Recommendation Awesome Projects You Should Totally Check Out

Rethinking Schools

Photo via Rethinking Schools.

Photo via Rethinking Schools.

Since living with a housemate whose primary passion is radical education reform, I’ve become super interested in the politics of progressive education and have tried to seek out further resources on the issue. Rethinking Schools is one of my favorite resources I’ve found thus far, and their weekly email list is chock full of thought-provoking, changemaking gems. Check them out!

In solidarity, Ali.

The Confused Robin: A Never-Ending Journey of De-Colonizing the Mind

Welcome to the week, everyone! Today I wanted to post something a tad different than my usual socio-political commentaries on veganism and animal justice. Lately I’ve really been trying to move through the world guided primarily by my heart, while letting my head take more of a backseat (since for most of my 20 years on this planet I’ve allowed the latter to make most of my decisions, to the detriment of my holistic well-being).

In the middle of this past spring semester, I came up against a metaphorical wall in my ability to work through tough issues and ideas–once a staunch enthusiast of the analytical essay, I realized that intellectualizing without  feeling the immense reality of those issues and ideas, I would only be able to get so far in terms of doing meaningful life work.  So I wrote my first poem. Then I wrote a short story. And those two small acts opened up a whole new way of feeling my way through the world, instead of just thinking my way through it.

In the short story I’m sharing below, I’m trying to (in a very small way) work though the (multifaceted, gargantuan, frustrating, confounding) task of decolonizing a Western mind indoctrinated by arrogance, capitalism, white supremacy, and The Enlightenment. I hope it brings some joy to your day.


Once and forever there was a young robin who moved about the woodlands with two miniature snakes living on each of her shoulders.

The snakes whispered into her ears, “You are a perfect snowflake! You deserve all the world has to offer! You will rule the skies one day!”

The robin wasn’t entirely certain where these whisperings were coming from, for the snakes were invisible to her. Nonetheless, she enjoyed their words and thought about them especially when she interacted with the other animals in the woodlands.

Then one day, the robin left the woodlands for the forest. There, the snakes were devoured piece-by-piece by the owls who lived high up in the trees.

The robin didn’t like the silence that existed in her ears without the snakes. She decided to search through the forest for more niceties to fill her ears.

First the robin came upon a swarm of dragonflies. She asked, “I don’t know what to think of myself without the whisperings! Will you help me?” But the dragonflies only whizzed beyond and through one another, creating a mass of wings and thoraxes indiscernible to the robin. She moved on.

Next the robin met a colony of ants. She once again asked, “I need the whisperings to define my place in the forest! Will you help me?” But the ants merely continued working with one another to form an entrance to their underground home by collecting individual grains of sand. So the robin moved on.

The robin next encountered a web of spiders. She asked them, “I’m lost without the whisperings! Won’t you help me?” But the spiders went on visiting each other’s spots on the web, crawling contentedly toward the next spider after conversing with the previous one. So the robin continued her search.

Finally the robin came upon a group of otters. She asked one last time, “The whisperings gave meaning to my life! Please, please help me.” But the otters persisted in their playful swimming, laughing at themselves as they knocked sea urchins against their heads. So the robin left them.

The robin was in despair. She sat in a forest clearing and began to cry. “Why do I even exist in the forest at all?” she wailed.

Soon, an owl began to slowly descend from the forest canopy and landed next to the robin. The owl advised the robin: “Think of the animals you’ve met in your journeys. Then do something with it. The first something you can do involves yourself.” And the owl soared into the sky.

Though the robin was still thoroughly confused about her place in the forest, she felt called to create something from her confusion. Hesitantly, with only a few notes at first, the robin began to chirp a song. Another robin swooped down next to her and began to chirp along in a different key and to a different tune, yet together their chirps formed an even more beautiful song. The more they chirped, the more animals gathered around them, contributing to an inspired cacophony that rang through the forest.


In solidarity, Ali.

Vegan Chews & Progressive News {6-19-15}

Chickpeas & Changes’s “Vegan Chews & Progressive News” series strives to promote artful vegan food and progressive discussion of social issues—both of which I view as necessary in fostering a society that prioritizes the well-being of all creatures (not just the rich, white, or human) over the continuous striving for profit/resource accumulation.

Just a reminder about the exciting news that Chickpeas & Change is now accepting submissions! I’m thrilled to be able to open this space up to voices from the anti-speciesist, feminist, anti-racist community. Check out this page for submission guidelines.

Hi, folks! I hope you’ve been finding love, joy, and good weather in these perpetually tragic times. This week on Vegan Chews & Progressive News (# NewsandChews), I’m sharing with ya’ll two unorthodox salads to perhaps lighten the mood as much as they lighten the palate, as well as one surprisingly creative dessert recipe that will have you heading out to your nearest campground (or maybe just your backyard). For stories, I’m featuring an (I think) important perspective on the Charleston massacre, a video that offers an ever-necessary critique of the privileged dynamics of animal advocacy circles, and a book by one of my very favorite professors about how we can sufficiently feel rather than just intellectualize the immense atrocities happening all around us. What a way to start off the weekend!

Favorite Newly Published Recipe

Savory

Kale Salad with Tofu Feta, Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Lemon-Hemp Dressing
Via Choosing Raw

Photo via Gena Hamshaw.

Photo via Gena Hamshaw.

Sweet

Skillet S’Mores Dip
Via A Dash of Compassion

Photo via Nicole Axworthy.

Photo via Nicole Axworthy.

Best Recipe I Made This Week

Cucumber, Pineapple & Tomato Salad with “Asian” Dressing
Via Alexis Touchet at Gourmet Magazine

Photo via Romulo Yanes.

Photo via Romulo Yanes.

Must-Read Article(s)

There’s One Word the Media Isn’t Using When Talking About the Charleston Shooter
Via Zak Cheney-Rice at Mic.com

Photo via David Goldman/AP.

Photo via David Goldman/AP.

Favorite Podcast Episode or Video

Critiquing Privilege in Animal Advocacy Circles
Via Burning Hearts Media with lauren Ornelas, A. Breeze Harper, & Jacqueline Morr at the Resistance Ecology 2015 Conference in Portland, OR

Photo via Burning Hearts Media.

Photo via Burning Hearts Media.

Book Recommendation

Colonial Signs of International Relations
By Himadeep Muppidi

Photo via Oxford University Press.

Photo via Oxford University Press.

In solidarity, Ali.

Savior Complexes & Animal Justice Work

In a series of seven Tweets and a consequential March 2012 article in The Atlantic, Nigerian-American novelist Teju Cole coined the term “White-Savior Industrial Complex” to describe the power relations present between privileged Western “do-gooders” and the African people facing immense violence at the hands of Joseph Kony. The Tweets included such facetious observations as “the white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening,” “the world is nothing but a problem to be solved by enthusiasm,” and “this world exists simply to satisfy the needs—including, importantly, the sentimental needs—of white people and Oprah.”

Here, Cole made explicitly clear the oppressive, violent implications of those who feel compelled to “save” other people. By concluding that others need to be “saved,” saviors assume both that those who occupy different life-worlds lack agency to confront the problem they face themselves, and that the savior understands the complexities of others’ experiences enough to act in a helpful, effective, and non-oppressive manner. This line of thought strikes me as profoundly arrogant–a mindset that, as I’ve spoken of before, I think must be eradicated if we hope to coexist in the world with others. By working in this arrogant way, saviors more often than not end up reinforcing power imbalances and contributing further to the systemic oppression of those they’re trying to “save.”

The savior complex — applied more generally than the specific White-Savior Industrial Complex that Cole discusses, though I in no way mean to equivocate the Western Humanitarian savior/African “victim” relationship with any other very specific, complex instance of savior dynamics  — is present in various social movements. For example, environmentalism speak of “saving” the earth, humanitarianism speaks of “saving” Black and brown people around the world who live in materially different ways than we in the West, and, of course, animal justice work speaks of “saving” other animals. It is this latter instance of the savior complex that I will focus on in this post.

In my experience, we who strive to work in solidarity with other animals to combat speciesism often speak of “rescuing” animals from agricultural operations and/or other situations of abuse, so that we can provide them with an adoptive home or bring them to a sanctuary. Though I can appreciate that other animals may require human-animal solidarity in that humans can more effectively communicate systemic species-based oppression with other humans who have not yet begun a process of learning to speak the languages of other animals, I think that understanding ourselves as the “rescuers” of other animals reinforces our default mode — which Cole so clearly points out — of assuming that we have the experiential knowledge to “fix” the world.

To continue to strive for radical humility in relation to “rescuing” in my animal justice work, I find it helpful to remind myself of those animals who have escaped from agricultural operations themselves, of the power that animals themselves have to shift the hearts and minds of humans (think of those who begin to advocate veganism because of a visit to a sanctuary), and of the ability of animals to very clearly communicate with us (assuming that we exercise enough humility to actually listen to them).

Though I certainly don’t think that waiting until every animal escapes from the farm to which they’re confined is a viable model of combating speciesism (nor is it safe for the animal, who due to our exploitative domestication of them can adequately survive without human support), I do think that we who participate in animal justice work need to do a much better job of allowing other animals to guide our actions and to remain at the center of our movement, rather than centering ourselves as “rescuers” and “saviors.”

In striving to engage in solidarity work rather than savior work, I think that most importantly we can help to foster in other humans an understanding of speciesism. This work can both confront the problem systemically rather than offering a band-aid solution, and remind us of our own implication in the oppression of other animals (which in turn can aid in developing in us a mode of radical humility).

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t continue to provide other animals with safe and supportive homes. What I am saying, though, is that in doing so, we must continue to combat our own internalized specieism, work against speciesism more broadly in systemic ways, and really learn to listen to the other animals with whom we purport to work in solidarity. Otherwise, we will continue to reinforce the speciesist notion of the helplessness of other animals, and uphold a form of the dangerous savior complex first explicitly articulated by Cole, and present in so many forms of social action.

In solidarity, Ali.


References

Bromley, Caroline. “How To Spot A Guy With A Savior Complex.” Thought Catalog. 27 January 2014. Web. 14 June 2015.

Checker, Melissa, Dana-Ain Davis, and Mark Schuller. “The Conflicts of Crisis: Critical Reflections on Feminist Ethnography and Anthropological Activism.” American Anthropologist 116.2 (June 2014): 408-409. Web. 14 June 2015.

Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Mag., 21 March 2012. Web. 14 June 2015.

Didymus, John-Thomas. “Africa, the White-Savior Industial Complex and the Quest for ‘Saviordom’ (Part 1).” All Voices. 14 November 2014. Web. 14 June 2015.

Ezeanu, Eduard. “Savior Complex Anyone?” People Skills Decoded. 23 October 2010. Web. 14 June 2015.

Murphy, Brian. “Unlearning: Savior Complex.” B. Murphy. n.d. Web. 14 June 2015.

Schneider, James. “Inside the White Saviour Industrial Complex.” NewAfrican. 6 January 2015. Web. 14 June 2015.

Tatum, Erin. “Why Your Savior Complex Is Toxic to Your Relationship.” Everyday Feminism. 13 October 2014. Web. 14 June 2015.