Instead of recording my regularly scheduled “What I Ate Wednesday” post, I’d like to instead relay to you my eats of this past weekend, during which I, along with my Vassar Animal Rights Coalition compatriates, attended an unforgettable conference at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Entitled “Finding a Niche for All Animals: A Conference Honoring the Ecofeminist Work of Marti Kheel,” the day-and-a-half long conference commemorated the fascinating life of Marti Kheel, a tireless ecofeminist, animal rights activist, holistic health proponent. When I first heard of the conference back in August, I had heard mention of Marti Kheel only after her untimely passing in November 2011 from an episode of the Our Hen House podcast that Jasmin and Mariann dedicated to their much-missed friend. However, after learning of Marti’s close work with Feminists for Animal Rights to “shine light on the connections between the treatment of women and animals under patriarchy” and to “raise consciousness about the links between social injustices and the degradation and destruction of nature and the earth,” I came to feel honored to sit and chat amongst those who knew Marti best. My spiritual connection with Marti deepened after also learning that she attended the University of Wisconsin in my very own hometown of Madison during the Vietnam War protests, when Madison began cultivating its status as a national hub of activism.
Organized by prominent philosopher Lori Gruen and iconic author of The Sexual Politics of Meat Carol Adams, the conference featured four panel discussions devoted to feminist ethics of care, contextual moral veganism, activism and dialogue, and ecofeminist theory and practice. During each panel, three or four speakers would offer a 10-minute summary of an essay they wrote on their particular topic, and a discussion open to the panelists and audience members alike would follow. The panels, however, did not begin until Saturday, as Friday night’s conference happenings included opening remarks by Carol Adams, a short film honoring the life work of Marti Kheel, and a convivial reception bountiful in impressive vegan noms.
Saturday began with the feminist ethics of care panel, during which Josephine Donovan identified humans’ lack of sympathy toward animals in ignoring the clear messages that relay their unwillingness to be subjected to torture or commodified. Ralph Acampora exposed a thought-provoking parallel between “caring cannibalism” and the justification of “humane meat” advocates that humans “deserve” to eat animals if they somehow spiritually connect with their prey. Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns criticized the notion that animals that are “products of our handiwork” (aka, domesticated farmed animals) do not deserve our compassion. Finally, Patrice Jones, owner of VINE Sanctuary (the very same sanctuary fighting for the life of Bill the ox against Green Mountain College), offered this gem of a quote: “Eating meat is something you do to someone else’s body without their consent”—a true unification of feminism and animal rights.
The second panel on contextual moral veganism featured such insights as Deane Curtin’s notion of compassion as a developed form of empathy and Richard Twine’s assertion that meat-eaters rather than vegans should have to carry the burden of justifying their food choices. Lauren Ornelas of the Food Empowerment Project, however, shone as the star of the panel by alerting our group of ethically minded eaters that “just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s cruelty-free”—indeed, as one child slave of the chocolate trade in West Africa asserted, “when they’re eating chocolate, they’re eating my flesh.” Wouldn’t an animal say this very same thing? To ensure that your chocolate fetish does not support the child slave trade, check out FEP’s list of approved chocolate companies.
A spectacular lunch followed the two morning panels and included the following midday yummies: mixed green salad served with optional dried fruit and pecans and a choice of either housemade Italian or raspberry vinaigrette dressing; lemony brown rice salad with carrots, corn, cherry tomatoes, and dill; garlicky kale soup; assorted wraps such as balsamic roasted veggies with sesame hummus, marinated portobello mushrooms with Asian slaw, BBQ seitan, and tofu with seaweed; potato dinner rolls; cheesecake with a chocolate crust; and the most exquisitely moist mini pumpkin bundt cakes (all the baked goods were also gluten-and-sugar-free, just like the previous evening!).
Two more panels followed our wildly satisfying lunch: the activism and dialogue panel highlighted individual’s stories of their own activism, while the ecofeminist theory and practice linked animal rights and ecofeminism to climate justice and LGBTQ issues, stressing the funamentally anti-ecological ideals of masculinity. Lori Gruen then provided an astoundingly provocative closing speech in which she recognized that by simply living, even as a vegan, humans guarantee the dying of other animals, but stressed that we must offer those animals special mourning and try our hardest to minimize the number of deaths we cause.
Not only did this incredible experience of a conference alert me to new issues within the realm of veganism that I didn’t even know existed, it connected me with a number of wonderfully passionate, intelligent activists and reminded me of the exceedingly generous, welcoming animal rights community. I even received the honor of speaking at length with Carol Adams, who bade me friend her on Facebook (!!!), as well as with fellow vegan blogger and Vassar alum Sarah Brown of the fantastic Queer Vegan Food.
After snapping the last photo and jotting down the last email of new vegan buds, we VARC-ers ventured onto the main thoroughfare near the Wesleyan campus for dinner at It’s Only Natural, voted “Best Vegetarian Restaurant” by Hartford Advocate readers since 1992. The menu features a wide array of cuisines and eating styles, from Mexican to Creole to comfort to macrobiotic, and offers many gluten-free options. I decided upon the Macrobiotic Plate of brown rice, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, pinto beans, and arame seaweed sprinkled with sesame seeds, though I would love to return to the restaurant to sample their infamous sweet potato fries.
I can’t wait for my next animal rights conference adventure, which I deeply hope will occur sometime in the very near future.
Until next time, Ali.