Why I Don’t Share Many Animal-Related Articles on Social Media

Hello, all! I apologize for the whole “no-post” thing last Monday; the social construct of time (wink) got the best of me. I hope y’all had great weeks, though!

First off, I’m thrilled to let ya’ll know that the second issue of the feminist, vegan, intersectional zine known as Project Intersect will be hot off the presses in early September, and I’ll have an edited version of my piece on veganism & consumerism published alongside a diverse array of critiques of structures of oppression. I’m honored and humbled to have my work included alongside so many other writer-activists. Check out this Facebook post to see the full list of contributors. Huge shout-out to Jacqueline Morr and Ashley Jo Maier for editing the issue. Be sure to follow Project Intersect to get your hands on their first two issues!

 Second, I wanted to talk a bit about why I don’t share very many animal/vegan-related articles on Chickpeas & Change’s various media outlets. If you follow the Chickpeas & Change Facebook and Twitter accounts, you’ll notice that not much stuff about animal agriculture, vivisection, wildlife, cute animal videos, etc. pops up in there. My reasoning for this is twofold:

1.) Most articles from the progressive news sources I follow tend to condemn large-scale animal agriculture for its detrimental impact on the environment, as well as its violent treatment of non-human animals. Great! However, I’m kind of sick of perpetuating the narrative that we need to include non-human animals in our realm of moral consideration only because the method in which we exploit them for food contributes hugely to environmental devastation, and/or because they’re suffering from unbelievable violence.

Implicit in these narratives is the belief that, if we can figure out an environmentally sustainable, “humane” method by which to violate the bodies of non-human animals for our own gustatory pleasure, then we humans have every right to use those bodies as we see fit. And that belief is inherently speciesist, as it depends upon the assumption that non-human animals exist purely for human use.

So, because there isn’t much media out there written from an anti-speciesist perspective, and because I’m continually striving in my activism to challenge the discrepancies between veganism and anti-speciesism, I don’t share much about animals and veganism. That stuff is written on my own blog, and from the pens of fellow radical anti-speciesist activists.

2.) As a proponent of veganism with racial, class, and ability privilege, I feel it necessary in my activism to emphasize my solidarity with those who do not live with such privileges. I aim to work against the mainstream, consumerist face of veganism that remains ignorant of systems of oppression beyond the exploitation of non-human animals. As such, the vast majority of the articles I share report on/discuss such issues as Black Lives Matter, Israel and Palestine, queer organizing, gender liberation, body acceptance, anti-capitalism, and the like. I do this in the hopes that my audience — many of whom are attracted to my blog for the vegan recipes and from my position as Media Coordinator for Our Hen House — will begin/continue to understand veganism as merely a logical extension of anti-speciesism, which in turn is a necessary aspect of collective liberation for all beings.

Soooo…yeah! I’m sorry if you’ve been confused as to the small amount of animal/vegan-related articles shared on my social media outlets, and I hope my reasoning makes sense. I would love for y’all to send me any articles that you think promote an anti-speciesist perspective, and I’d be happy to share them on the C&C pages.

In solidarity, Ali.

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.

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.

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.

Veganism & Bodily Autonomy

Can we talk about bodily autonomy for a hot sec? Because it’s a big reason why I advocate veganism.

Diana (Image via Heartland Farm Sanctuary)

Diana (Image via Heartland Farm Sanctuary)

So you and I and everyone around us each live in a body, and we all have different levels of comfort, safety, and ability that determine what we can do — both in the sense of being physically able to do it, and being emotionally okay with doing it — based on our different life experiences. And, if we hope to embody radical humility, then we have to understand others’ life experiences as legitimate and deserving of respect. Put two-and-two together: we as humans who strive for radical humility must respect the comfort, safety, and ability levels of the bodies of the people whose life experiences are different from our own.

That’s respecting bodily autonomy: each person’s ability to determine what they do or don’t do with their own body, as long as it does not infringe upon the bodily autonomy of others. It’s a pretty major feminist tenet. And although I would argue that it’s damn near impossible to enjoy full bodily autonomy under capitalism and state governance, I think that we can work together to ensure that we as a community contribute as little as possible to the social controls that infringe upon our ability to feel safe and comfortable in our own bodies.

Mister (Image via Heartland Farm Sanctuary)

Mister (Image via Heartland Farm Sanctuary)

That’s why consent is great and necessary, that’s why asking people before you hug them is super important, that’s why commenting on people’s size and shape is unacceptable…and that’s why I don’t eat other animals or their secretions. The body of a pig, cow, chicken, duck, lizard, or what-have-you does not belong to me, nor do any of the things that come out of their bodies (eggs, milk, etc.).

In some situations with other animals, it’s pretty clear whether or not they want me to be doing something with their bodies. For example, if Diana moseys up to me in the goat pasture at the sanctuary where I’m working this summer and starts nuzzling her head against my hand, I’m fairly confident that she’s asking me to pet her. Or if I enter Mister’s duck enclosure and he starts nipping at my legs, I’m definitely not going to bother him any more than necessary (like to stick his bowl of salad in there at dinnertime).

Sweet Pea (Image via Heartland Farm Sanctuary)

Sweet Pea (Image via Heartland Farm Sanctuary)

So unless Sweet Pea lays her egg, picks it up with her beak, and sets it in my hand, I’m not going to claim it as my own. Unless Beatrice rips off a piece of her own flesh, trots up to me and sets it at my feet, I’m sure as hell not going to take it. Otherwise, the lines of communication between me and other animals are not clear enough to ensure informed consent among all parties involved, so I’ll air on the side of caution and assume that they do not want me doing something with their bodies…including consuming it or what comes from it.

Moral of the story: please don’t do things to other people’s bodies unless they explicitly ask you to. That includes other animals. By taking this request to heart, we can work to support each other in feeling comfortable and safe in our own bodies, even when we cannot in the rest of the world.

Beatrice (Image via Heartland Farm Sanctuary)

Beatrice (Image via Heartland Farm Sanctuary)

In solidarity, Ali.


References

“I’ve been thinking about….” No, That’s not how Abortion is. 13 March 2014. Web. 6 June 2015.

Kate. “Bodily autonomy….” Vegan-Vulcan. 23 May 2014. Web. 6 June 2015.

Low, Hana. “Pro-choice is not anti-vegan.” Hana Low: Opening the Cages for Collective Liberation. 15 January 2015. Web. 6 June 2015.

Miss Pixie and Stuntiverse. “Consent culture (Vegan BDSM pt 2).” Ethical Kink. 23 March 2014. 6 June 2015.

—. “Power and privilege (Vegan BDSM pt 3).” Ethical Kink. 28 March 2014. 6 June 2015.

—. “Vegan BDSM.” Ethical Kink. 18 March 2014. Web. 6 June 2015.

A Response to “Veganism is a Form of Disordered Eating”: Why the Vegan Community Needs to Take Accountability

Recently, I was interviewed for an academic publication that sought to debunk the myth that veganism constitutes a form of disordered eating. Having lived in a state of ongoing ED recovery for the past five years now — and having experienced veganism as a profound mechanism of healing — I emphatically support the work my interviewer was attempting to do. Indeed, as a proponent of veganism, I no longer understand animal flesh and secretions as food, so likening my veganism to an eating disorder would parallel someone being concerned about my eating habits because I wasn’t chowing down on my carpet.

During the interview, my interviewer asked whether or not I felt anger toward folks who mask eating disorders with vegan consumption habits, only to subsequently speak out against veganism for the struggles it caused them. The question stopped me. Of course I wasn’t angry at such folks — I was one of them, after all, and I couldn’t possibly feel animosity toward someone solely for their destructive internalization of Western false ideals of beauty and body. But I understood where the question was coming from: there has been much backlash in the vegan community against ED-provoked former vegans — a backlash that I believe targets the wrong entities.

Instead of blaming people who hide eating disorders behind vegan consumption habits for giving veganism a bad name, perhaps we should engage in a critical analysis of how we who support vegan consumption habits tend to construct veganism in discourse and practice in such a way as to prompt folks to use vegan eating as a mask for deeper destructive dynamics.

While as I mentioned above I completely support efforts to de-link veganism from eating disorders, I can totally grasp the tendency to connect the two, since for many — including myself while in the depths of my ED — vegan consumption habits can serve as a method of justification for refusing certain calorie-dense foods (even though there’s an animal-free version of basically any dish these days) or loading up one’s plate with veggies. This linkage, however, depends at least in part upon constructions of vegan consumption as “the healthiest diet,” which serves as one of the main arguments for adopting vegan eating habits among vegan activists.

In vegan health arguments, I can identify a number of problems that serve to lend vegan consumption to a masking of eating disorders.

For starters, vegan health arguments construe veganism as primarily a matter of food choice. They thus equate eating with morality–an equation that has played a large role in my own struggles with disordered eating. For example, if I ate something I perceived as unhealthy, failed to include a leafy green vegetable in one of my meals, or ate more than my body needed at any given moment, I would feel a profound sense of guilt and disgust with myself. I based my self-worth primarily on how, when, and what I ate, so eating became a major marker of how I perceived my morality.

I can also see this dynamic play out in health-oriented vegan circles, which tend to lean toward no-oil/soy-free/grain-free/low-fat/etc. diets and equate such supposedly “healthy” eating styles with morality. Indeed, a number of my colleagues have experienced backlash from such circles for publishing recipes perceived as “unhealthy,” receiving such ludicrous comments as “you’re not really vegan if you cook in such-and-such a way” (which is totally false unless that way in which you cook involves animal products). Veganism thus becomes a path by which to achieve the “purest” form of eating, which many forms of disordered eating also seek to do.

However, if we understand veganism as one among many attempts to question the default ideologies – in this case, speciesism – that infringe upon our ability to coexist with others, practicing vegan consumption habits becomes but one action taken in accordance with a larger political orientation. Emphasizing vegan eating as one of many means rather than the end can help to cultivate an understanding of veganism as much more than just one’s eating habits, which can in turn promote a de-linking of veganism and eating disorders.

Additionally, vegan health arguments work to uphold capitalist, statist ideologies that delineate what count as “normal” (and thus acceptable) bodies–exactly the ideologies that help to foster a proliferation of eating disorders in the first place. I think that our conceptions of what counts as a “healthy body” are largely constructed by the capitalist economic system in which we live, which seeks to constantly accumulate more and more wealth. In order to achieve that constant accumulation, capitalism needs to employ as many people as possible in the service of profit-making. Since profit-making depends upon maximized productivity, the capitalist state can only thrive if it creates maximally productive (i.e., “healthy”) bodies — i.e., “healthy” bodies. Virtually all of us internalized a capitalist ideology that conditions us to see productive/”healthy” bodies as normal and superior to all others, so I understand what we tend to perceive as self-betterment as actually in service of the capitalist state. 

This construction of “healthy” bodies is also profoundly ableist — if we understand ableism as a set of practices and beliefs that assign inferior value to people who live with developmental, emotional, physical or psychiatric disabilities — since they imply that thin, fully mobile, muscular bodies are the “best bodies.” 

I’m not saying here that we shouldn’t strive to feel good in our bodies, but I am saying that we should strive to dissociate what feeling good means to ourselves from what constructions of a capitalist, statist society tell us our body should look and feel like. For example, currently and for a long time now, I’ve only been able to “feel good” in my body if I can perceive it as thin, thanks to Western societal ideals of body size. So, for me, dissociating feeling good from societal constructions would mean assessing my body on how well it can support me in everything I need and love to do, rather than on its size.

So yes, it’s very disappointing to see veganism employed as a front for eating disorders. But I think that instead of getting angry with individual former vegans for having internalized Western societal conceptions of “the ideal body” and grasping onto what is presented as a food-centric, “health”-related philosophy, we as proponents of veganism should work to challenge these capitalist/statist conceptions of “healthy” bodies by emphasizing eating as but one of many political actions in the service of anti-speciesism.

In solidarity, Ali.

Summer Plans

Hi, folks! Just a short post today, as I have to prepare loads and loads of animal-free bacon-y goodies for today’s (well, last Friday’s by the time you read this) Vegan Bacon Tasting, hosted by the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC). As such, I thought I’d let ya’ll know about my summer plans, since they involve lots of cool (well, I think, at least) animal justice-related endeavors, including a sanctuary internship and a field work project for my Geography major.

First, I’ll be spending five days a week working full-time at Heartland Farm Sanctuary, a five-year-old sanctuary just outside of my hometown’s city limits. In addition to feeding the residents, cleaning out their barns, accompanying them on medical visits (including to a licensed Reiki practitioner!), and giving them lots of love, I’ll also be helping out the leaders of Heartland’s summer camp for schoolchildren and assisting in some event-planning.

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As I’ve mentioned on the blog before, I’ve become increasingly committed to learning how to more adequately communicate with other animals, to really listen to the folks with whom I seek to work in solidarity. I’m eager to further pursue this practice at Heartland this summer, both by working there and through my aforementioned Geography field work project. Through this project, I intend to highlight the marginalized voices within animal justice work, including women of color, slaughterhouse workers, and the animals themselves. In doing so, I hope to challenge the animal justice movement’s privileging and exclusionary visibilizing of white, wealthy men in order to advance a more radical agenda of animal justice, as laid out by the movement’s oft silenced voices. I would greatly appreciate any reading/resource suggestions from ya’ll, as I’ve only just begun constructing the syllabus for this project.

Anywho, I’ve got to go get up to my elbows in vegan bacon grease, so I wish you a lovely week and look forward to hearing any resource recommendations you might have.

In solidarity, Ali.

Meet Sir Chester McFlops-a-Lot III

On Thursday, April 16, someone came into my life who unexpectedly shifted the way I move through my daily life. I thought I was just adopting a rabbit, providing a home for an abandoned bun. (I’m refraining from using the term “rescue” here, as I think it can contribute to the development of a human savior complex toward non-human animals that paints them as victims rather than agents. More in a future blog post.) But after about two weeks of living with him, I’ve come to realize that I’ve gained a teacher, a playmate, a trickster, and a companion. Obviously, this bun’s existence is valuable in and of itself, regardless of what he contributes to my life, but I think it’s important to recognize the impact that non-human animals — whom we much more often than not regard as inferior beings — can have on human lives.

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I call him Sir Chester McFlops-a-Lot III (Chester, for short), and I adopted him from a woman who had been fostering him for about a week after finding him cooped up in a small cage in a dark basement, with minimal food an water. Apparently, the owner of said basement (or, more accurately, the house attached to it…) had bought a newborn Chester from a breeder as an Easter gift for her daughter, who “got tired” of Chester after just over two years of living with him. Chester now lives in my very spacious room and loves hopping around, hiding under my bed, munching on hay and lettuce, and getting petted. He’s a super sociable bun with tons of energy, and I’m so happy that he doesn’t have to live in a basement anymore. Moral of the story: please don’t buy bunnies (or any non-human animals, for that matter) as holiday gifts. They are complex beings with their own unique life-worlds who must be regarded as infinitely more than inanimate objects on par with socks and candy, and treated as such.

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From sharing my room with Chester, I’ve been able to get out of my own head, to interrupt the obsessive thoughts that can often spiral into destructive tendencies. In providing care for another, I’ve necessarily had to think beyond myself, to disrupt the individualistic habits I’ve long cultivated of work-work-working on an uninterrupted schedule, in the presence of only me, myself, and I. I pause. I pause to sit on the ground with Chester, to clean his cage, to fill his carrot-shaped food bowl with lettuce, to pet his smooth-soft fur from head to tail as he gently grinds his teeth in silent contentedness. After a whirlwind of a day, I’m calmed immediately as I enter my room, greeted by an excited bun, eagerly nudging my heels to request pets and snuggles.

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Not only has Chester taught me how to more easily occupy a space outside of myself, he has also shown me how to communicate with him, serving as a language professor of sorts. Nipping at my heels means he wants attention; hopping in and out of his cage (which remains open all the time so that Chester can explore my room as he pleases) means he wants more food; sitting with his legs tucked underneath him means that he’s calm and content; flopping onto his back means he’s incredibly happy, and usually happens after I’ve given him pets or he’s had fun ripping up a piece of newspaper; running across my room and leaping into the air means it’s playtime; and so on.

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In a recent post, I reflected upon how animal justice activists might support the agency of the non-human beings with whom we seek to act in solidarity by truly listening to them, by learning their language. I think that living with Chester has given me good practice in this area — practice that is forever ongoing and will never be complete, simply by virtue of the fact that I’ve been socialized as a human since childhood — and trust that my internship at Madison’s own Heartland Farm Animal Sanctuary this summer will allow me to continue and expand upon this practice.

Have ya’ll developed a mode of human-animal communication between you and your companion animals? If so, how — if at all– do you think it has improved your ability to act in solidarity with non-human beings? I’d love to hear your stories, perhaps even in a future blog post here at C&C! You can submit your pieces to chickpeasandchange [at] gmail [dot] com, and check out this page for submission guidelines.

Looking for resources on how to be a great bunny companion? Visit the House Rabbit Society’s website.

In solidarity, Ali.

Recap of the 14th Annual Institute for Critical Animal Studies Conference

Hello, all! As I mentioned last Monday, I had the pleasure of spending last weekend at Binghamton University for the 14th Annual Institute for Critical Animal Studies North America Conference, along with seven of my fellow members of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) and one VARC alum. Today, I’d like to share with ya’ll some of what I found as the most compelling insights from the conference, and well as what I think needs improvement.

First, a bit of background on the awesome organization known as the Institute for Critical Animal Studies (ICAS): co-founded in 2001 and still currently headed by powerhouse intersectional activist Anthony J. Nocella II, ICAS began with the intent of defending the radical politics and activism of the Animal Liberation Front. Today, ICAS — grounded in animal liberation — promotes solidarity with all oppressed groups with an aim towards collective liberation for all beings, functioning as an academic-activist research center that seeks to foster holistic, intersectional social justice spaces, networks, scholarship, research, and education. ICAS now has chapters/offices on each continent, and has hosted conferences like the one I attended last weekend since its inception.

Completely on our college’s dime, I any my fellow VARC-ers drove a big ol’ 12-seater van three hours north, arriving on the Binghamton campus just in time for the last panel of the conference’s first day. Though I was disappointed to have missed presentations on interspecies intelligence, human exceptionalism, and the idea of parasites as companion species from earlier in the day, I excitedly attended a panel that included presentations on neoliberal green capitalism and critical perspectives on the current state of animal advocacy.

The first presentation — given by Livia Boscardin, a doctoral student in Sociology at University of Basel, Switzerland and entitled “Green Growth, Happy meat, and Resource Species: Animal Exploitation in Neoliberal Green Capitalism” — focused on the link between ethical consumption practices (“green” products, “happy” meat, and vegan consumerism, in particular) and capitalism (check out my post on Veganism & Consumerism for more details). I appreciated Livia’s framing of vegan consumerism as a co-optation and de-politicization of the radical idea of animal liberation, as well as a way to isolate the animal justice movement (more on this term later!) from understanding  the interconnectedness between all struggles for liberation, such that we continue to perpetuate violent ideologies like racism, sexism, transphobia, and ableism.

Livia Boscardin presenting (photo: Anthony Nocella).

Livia Boscardin presenting (photo: Anthony Nocella).

Also during that first panel, the aforementioned Anthony Nocella gave a presentation called “Challenging Racism & Ableism within Animal Advocacy,” in which he laid out an “eco-ability” framework that understands how ecological destruction intersects with human identity, and how discrimination against the disabled body is intimately linked with discrimination against non-human animals. As examples of ableism within animal advocacy, Anthony pointed to the “sexy vegan” image that privileges thin, able bodies, as well as oft-cited philosopher and Animal Liberation author Peter Singer’s eugenicist view that humans should be able to kill babies born with developmental disabilities because they ultimately won’t be “useful” to society. As for examples of racism within the movement, Anthony identified the prevalence of vegan Thanksgiving events that encourage folks to celebrate a “compassionate” holiday, while failing to acknowledge the day’s origins in the Native American genocide (and thus that the holiday can never be “compassionate,” even if animals are left off of the table).

After a restful evening in a nearby hotel where most of the conference attendees were staying for the weekend, our VARC cohort returned to the Binghamton Campus for our first full day of panels. I started off the morning at a panel on anti-speciesist pedagogy, which featured a presentation by Binghamton senior Trevor Reddick entitled “An Argument for Native Studies: Toward a Critical Animal and Anti-Colonial Pedagogy.” Paralleling much of the postcolonial theory in which I’ve been interested for a couple of semesters now, Trevor pointed out how colonialism — not a phenomenon of the past or of elsewhere in the world — continues to shape the way we move about and interpret the world, such that we understand ourselves, our modes of being, and our theories and inherently superior to all other peoples (including non-human animals) with whom we share the world. Trevor proposed the integration of Native Studies into educational institutions as a manner of challenging this framework under which we operate, suggesting that by familiarizing ourselves with indigenous worldviews we can begin to interact with the world in less violent ways. While I quite enjoyed Trevor’s presentation, I do wish that he had mentioned that, for this type of work to truly challenge the hierarchies of domination that exist between industrialized and indigenous cultures, those of us embedded in the former must step down from the podium and make space for those of the latter to guide human modes of being in the world, rather than voyeuristically looking at other cultures for our own benefit.

Pedagogy panel (photo: Anthony Nocella).

Pedagogy panel (photo: Anthony Nocella).

Additionally in this pedagogy panel, Binghamton Lecturer of English JL Schatz gave a talk called “Teaching Critical Animal Studies: Beyond Gradeability,” in which he introduced an interesting idea that he had just begun to practice of allocating ten percent of his students’ grades to their “internalization of course material.” At the end of the semester, JL explained that each of his students must reflect upon how well they integrated course material into their daily life, and provide a brief essay on how they rigorously engaged with the course texts so as to move beyond mere consumption of information. As examples, JL suggested that students who adopted (temporarily or permanently) vegan diets in light of their readings on speciesism, or those who called their friends out for making misogynistic jokes thanks to their texts on feminism, would receive exemplary grades in this internalization aspect of the course. I would love to hear the thoughts of any educators out there on this practice!

Later that day, after a delicious lunch generously provided by conference organizers, I checked out the “Theorizing the Biopolitics of Animal Life” panel, featuring a presentation by VARC alum and all-around awesome person Lauren O’Laughlin, who is currently a doctoral student in the Department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington. Lauren’s fascinating presentation — entitled “(Un)Sexing the Animal: Thinking Critically About Intersex Fish Panics” — examined how scientific discourse surrounding environmental chemicals known as endocrine disruptors (EDCs) reflect the pervasive belief that intersex bodies are unhealthy, inferior, and undesirable. Pointing to scientists who frame as an ecological catastrophe frogs who have both testes and ovaries, Lauren urged us to “articulate environmental concern in ways that do not erase queer pasts and presents.” Omg, VARC alums are the best.

Lauren and I voicing our dissent of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) (photo: Anthony Nocella).

Lauren and I voicing our dissent of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) (photo: Anthony Nocella).

We current VARC members had the immense pleasure of hanging out with Lauren all weekend (they shared a hotel room with us and rode in our van with us), and were able to gain much insight from chatting with them. One thing that really stuck with me from speaking with Lauren was their use of the term “animal justice,” as opposed to “animal rights” or “animal liberation.” Lauren, like me and many others, finds problems in a rights-based framework, and finds the animal liberation ideology to be overwhelmingly masculinist, so feels that “animal justice” most adequately reflects their work as of right now. The term jived with me, so I’ve begun to use it as well.

I took a break from the final panel and ended up having a fantastically productive, imaginative, and inspiring discussion with Anthony and Lauren about the future of VARC and radical animal work in general, before heading back to the hotel for a rousing few rounds of Hearts (my card game of choice).

On Sunday — the last day of the conference — my good friend and fellow VARC co-leader Rocky gave an impressive presetation on the masculinist rhetoric of scientific objectivity integral to discussions surrounding the deer cull  that takes place on the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve (VFEP) every two years (for more info check out the Poughkeepsie community-run SaveOurDeer.Webs.com), which provided a perfect conclusion to our conference adventure.

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While above I’ve reflected upon some of my highlights of the conference, the weekend did disappoint my fellow VARC members and me in a number of ways. For one thing, a number of presenters espoused implicitly racist and colonial ideologies in their presentations, such as the activist who insisted that we “educate” soup kitchen organizers to only serve vegan food to a population whose agency and bodily autonomy are already constantly infringed upon, or the white scholar who railed upon the Native activism organization Idle No More for their “speciesist” traditional practices. Additionally, many (if not most) presenters employed ableist language in their presentations, even after Anthony explicitly listed examples of such language in his presentation on the first day of the conference. Finally, even speciesist ideology made an appearance at the conference — further proving that veganism alone is not enough to challenge internalized speciesism — such as in the research that a Master’s student was about to undertake, which relied upon the assumption that one cannot engage in farming practices without viewing non-human animals as tools for human use. Despite these disappointing aspects of the conference, I’m hopeful for the future of animal justice work and critical animal studies, for most of the younger activists with whom I spoke took radically progressive, intersectional positions in their activism.

All in all, I’m very happy that I got the chance to attend the conference, and look forward to staying up-to-date on the groundbreaking work constantly happening in the realm of critical animal studies. Perhaps I’ll see some of ya’ll at next year’s conference!

In solidarity, Ali.

To Be Continued…

Hi, all! This weekend I had the immense pleasure of attending the 14th Annual Institute for Critical Animal Studies Conference at Binghamton University, along with eight fellow members of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) (including an alum!). The weekend was jam-packed, leaving me little time to even turn on my computer, much less type up a blog post on it. Rest assured, however, that next Monday I’ll provide you with a recap of the thought-provoking, challenging conference. Until then, stick around for Thursday’s regular # NewsandChews post. Have a great week!

Photo via ICAS.

Photo via ICAS.

In solidarity, Ali.