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.


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.


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.


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.


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, which provided a perfect conclusion to our conference adventure.


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.

[VIDEO] “Queering Animal Liberation”: A Talk by pattrice jones of VINE Sanctuary

Do you have an anti-speciesist, feminist, anti-racist vision that needs to get out there in the world? Consider making Chickpeas & Change the platform for it! The blog is now accepting submissions. Check out this page for details.

Welcome to the first video post here at Chickpeas & Change! Last Monday, I reflected upon a conversation that I and my Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) co-leaders were lucky enough to have with longtime LGBTQ, anti-racist, anti-speciesist activist pattrice jones, co-founder of VINE Sanctuary in Springfield, VT. This conversation took place before pattrice gave a lecture — hosted by VARC — to a room of Vassar community members, and I’m thrilled to be able to share with ya’ll a video recording of pattrice’s lecture, entitled “Queering Animal Liberation”. Please enjoy and share widely.


In solidarity, Ali.

Our Positioning as Animal Activists

Do you have an anti-speciesist, feminist, anti-racist vision that needs to get out there in the world? Consider making Chickpeas & Change the platform for it! The blog is now accepting submissions. Check out this page for details.

Hi, all! My thoughts in today’s post stem from a conversation I and my Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) co-leaders were lucky enough to have with longtime LGBTQ, anti-racist, anti-speciesist activist pattrice jones, co-founder of VINE Sanctuary in Springfield, VT. VARC hosted pattrice for a campus lecture this past Tuesday, and we were thrilled to be able to sit down with her for an informal chat before the event. (We were also able to videotape pattrice’s talk, so be sure to stay updated on my blog in the upcoming weeks for info on how to access the recording!)

One strand of our conversation with pattrice that particularly struck me came in response to a question asked by one of my co-leaders in regards to our positioning as animal activists; that is, people advocating on behalf of non-human animals. In her reply, pattrice recalled a talk given by Native Studies scholar and INCITE! co-founder Andrea Smith at the 2007 “Inadmissible Comparisons” conference hosted by United Poultry Concerns. Unfortunately, what I say here will be a paraphrase of a paraphrase, as I could not find a transcript or recording of Andrea’s original talk; nonetheless, I’d like to summarize pattrice’s description of the talk, since I think it brings up important questions of animal activist positioning and non-human agency.

pattrice shared with us Andrea’s observation that, in dialogues with or actions directed toward those who are not vegan or otherwise actively exploit non-human animals, animal advocates will often cognitively place ourselves in the position of the chicken, the cow, the rat, the rabbit, etc. On the one hand, this empathetic ability to occupy another’s viewpoint serves as an important aspect of any type of activism that involves a member of an oppressor group advocating in solidarity with an oppressed group (think white anti-racist activism, for example). On the other hand, Andrea observed that this cognitive shift in animal advocates’ subject positioning tends to lead us to forget that we are not the ones being oppressed, but rather lead rather comfortable lives (at least, most of us) in which we’ve chosen to disavow our species privilege and encourage others to do the same.

pattrice explained that Andrea made this observation in the context of dialogues in which someone who had not yet disavowed their species privilege critiques an animal activist for upholding other systems of oppression (white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, capitalism, etc.) at least in part by making comparisons between oppressions – in an “oppression olympics,” if you will – instead of focusing on their interlocking logics. Because the animal activist now thinks of ourself as a member of a species-oppressed group – a group in which members of virtually every other marginalized peoples participate in oppressing – we cannot consider our critiquer’s assertions as legitimate. “I can’t possibly be participating in oppressive structures right now, because I’m the most oppressed!!!“…or so the internal monologue presumably goes.

Obviously, as Andrea demonstrates, this cognitive shift in subject positioning when advocating for animals prevents us from listening to others who let us know when we’re committing an act of violence in our advocacy. With this mindset, we can never hope to develop the radical intersectional politics necessary to guide us toward collective liberation for all beings.

For me, this shift also brings up questions of agency. In so much of animal advocacy, I see human animals exercising agency and power, while non-human animals are presented as victims who need saving. By putting ourselves into the place of non-human animals when advocating for them, I think we further co-opt their agency, obscuring they who actually face species-based oppression while making the world more comfortable for ourselves. For example, campaigning for more vegan options at restaurants with no mention of the non-human animals for whom we promote veganism presents the campaign as working on behalf of vegans who face “oppression” (imagine GIANT quotations here) at the hands of the restaurant industry, rather than in solidarity with the non-human animals who actually face systemic oppression. (And it also serves merely to shift the capitalist market from an animal-based one to a plant-based one instead of dismantling the logics of capitalism — which exploit all living beings — altogether.)

In part thanks to this conversation we shared with pattrice, I’ve been thinking about how to act from a place of respecting the agency of non-human animals, rather than centering myself as a member of a non-species-oppressed group and turning them into helpless victims. I think that sanctuaries can provide an awesome model for such agency-respecting advocacy, but even sanctuaries tend to strip their residents of some level of autonomy. So I’m still thinking…and will probably be thinking for a while. But I’d really appreciate your help in doing so! Seriously, comment section is wide open (as always). And, if you have thoughts that cannot be condensed into the small space of a comment, please consider submitting a piece to Chickpeas & Change! Check out this page for submission guidelines.

In solidarity, Ali.

“Trash Animals”: Intersections of Speciesism, Classism, & Racism

Recently, I’ve found myself in a number of situations where those around me (and in one instance even myself) implicitly referred to other animals as dirty, and thus in need of being separated from us “clean” humans. Though I’ve written before about the animals we typically deem as “pests,” these recent situations have prompted me to re-explore the topic.

In one instance, I overheard a conversation that took place in my communal kitchen between two of my housemates. Housemate A was about to place a spoonful of peanut butter into a small cup when Housemate B shouted at Housemate A to stop, warning Housemate A that the particular cup they were about to use had previously been employed to feed the rescued lab rats who live with another housemate. Housemate A thanked Housemate B, expressing their gladness that they hadn’t had to eat from the same cup from which a rat had eaten (even though the cup had been cleaned and sanitized in the dishwasher after the rat had used it).

Additionally, my housemates and I have been increasingly encountering cockroaches in the kitchen, pantry, and dining areas of our cooperative household. The majority of my housemates have expressed concern over the insects’ presence, citing health risks and food contamination. I myself played into this discourse by not removing a cockroach trap placed in our walk-in pantry by our college’s janitorial staff — an inaction that, upon reflection, was supremely speciesist, and one in which I don’t intend to engage again. It is with a heavy heart that I think of those beings who met an untimely and violent death in part due to my inaction, and I hope that this post can provide some small memorial to them.

In my view, at the heart of these expressions of disgust toward the rats and cockroaches in our home lies the speciesist assumption that we — the human animals for whose use our house is intended — are cleaner (read: superior) than the other animals with whom we live, and thus that we have a right to determine how they use our house, whether that infringes upon their bodily autonomy or not.

And yet, as the editors of the anthology Trash Animals: How We Live with Nature’s Filthy, Feral, Invasive, and Unwanted Species inquire, “Are animals to blame for flourishing in the abundant habitat we create?” (24). Indeed — to use the case of cockroaches as an extended example — cockroaches probably wouldn’t want anything to do with human animals if not for our “crumbs, scraps of food, and spilled food that they find” (Orkin) (they have existed for 300 million years before us, anyway [Kraus 212]). In this way, are not cockroaches merely cleaning up after our messes?

Because we human animals — and especially those who enjoy ample amount of privilege — are notoriously unwilling to engage in self-critical reflection, we refuse to acknowledge the situations we create as having the ideal conditions for the prevalence of cockroaches and other “pests.” Thus, we attack the symptom — cockroaches — of the manifestation of the messiness at once integral to human nature and demonized out of our fears of appearing “imperfect” in any way. With their astute assertion that “[t]rash is a human creation both literally and figuratively” (7), Nagy and Johnson adequately summarize our construction of certain animals as “pests” out of a fear to acknowledge the mess that we necessarily produce simply by virtue of living (especially in our modern world).

All this talk of human production of trash as the reason for the prevalence of cockroaches is not intended to shame the marginalized groups — namely, economically poor Black people in the United States — who encounter cockroaches on the most regular basis. (To give you some context, a 1996 study by Sarpong et al found that “African-American race and low socioeconomic status were both[…] significant risk factors for cockroach allergen sensitization in children with atopic asthma” [1393]). On the contrary, I want to stress the point that we wealthy white people have a fear of being associated with such marginalized groups due to our historical construction of them as dirty, disease-ridden, and morally inferior (constructions used with high frequency to justify slavery)—a construction that in part depends upon our speciesist understanding of “pests,” since such an understanding allows us to point to the concentration of cockroaches in low-income Black homes as evidence of the latter’s physical and spiritual filthiness. To concretize this idea, it might be helpful to remember that “[p]olitical, ethnic, and interest groups have […] demonized outsiders [such as Black, Mexicans, and Jews] by nicknaming them after [cockroaches” (Kraus in Nagy & Johnson 204).

Yet just as humans create just the conditions in which cockroaches and other “pests” can thrive, wealthy white people create the conditions in which economically poor Black people face institutional barriers to securing housing that supports their wellbeing (i.e., by not being infested with cockroaches, who have been consistently linked with carrying asthma-related allergens). For example, the housing that is economically accessible to economically poor Black people due to vast structural inequality is often in disrepair, making it incredibly difficult to maintain a “clean” home (how can your food stay safe to eat if your cabinet doors are falling of their hinges, or if your refrigerator can’t maintain temperature? And how can you avoid mold if your pipes leak?), and thus one less likely to attract cockroaches and other “pests.”

Cockroaches do not inherently cause asthma, but individuals living in areas with a high cockroach presence for a prolonged period of time have a far greater chance of becoming sensitized to cockroach allergens (aka, becoming allergic to cockroaches), and developing asthma in part because of them. So, instead of demonizing the individual non-human animals who seem to me pretty harmless in and of themselves, perhaps we should instead devote our energies toward working in solidarity with marginalized groups to dismantle the structures that reinforce the white supremacy and poverty that forces economically poor Black people into dilapidated housing, prevents them from accessing adequate healthcare, etc. Part of this dismantling, I believe, needs to involve a confrontation of our fear of being associated with beings whom we regard as dirty and inferior — whether that be economically poor people, people of color, or “trash” animals.

In solidarity, Ali.


Arruda, L. Karla, Lisa D. Vailes, Virginia P.L. Ferriani, Ana Beatriz R. Santos, Anna Pomes, and Martin D. Chapman. “Cockroach Allergens and Asthma.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 3 (March 2001): 419-428. ScienceDirect. Web. 20 March 2015.

Garcia, F., M.J. Notario, J.M. Cabanas, R. Jordano, and L.M. Medina. “Incidence of Bacteria of Public Health Interest Carried by Cockroaches in Different Food-Related Environments.” Journal of Medical Entomology 6 (November 2012): 1481-1484. BioOne. Web. 20 March 2015.

Jones, Robert Emmet and Shirley A. Rainey. “Examining Linkages between Race, Environmental Concern, Health, and Justice in a Highly Polluted Community of Color.” Journal of Black Studies 4 (March 2006): 473-496. JSTOR. Web. 20 March 2015.

McConnell, R., J. Milam, J. Richardson, J. Galvan, C. Jones, P.S. Thorne, and K. Berhane. “Educational Intervention to Control Cockroach Allergen Exposure in the Homes of Hispanic Children in Los Angeles: Results of the La Casa Study.” Clinical and Experimental Allergy 35 (2005): 426-433. EbscoHost. Web. 20 March 2015.

Nagy, Kelsi and Phillip David Johnson II. Trash Animals: How We Live with Nature’s Filthy, Feral, Invasive, and Unwanted Species. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013. Print.

Nalyanya, Godfrey, J. Chad Gore, H. Michael Linker, and Coby Schal. “German Cockroach Allergen Levels in North Carolina Schools: Comparison of Integrated Pest Management and Conventional Cockroach Control.” Journal of Medical Entomology 3 (2009): 420-427. BioOne. Web. 20 March 2015.

Oldenburg, Marcus. “Occupational Health Risks Due to Shipboard Cockroaches.” International Archive of Occupational and Environmental Health 81 (2008): 727-734. EbscoHost. Web. 20 March 2015.

“Cockroaches.” Orkin. Orkin. Web. 20 March 2015.

Rauh, Virginia A., Ginger L. Chew, and Robin S. Garfinkel. “Deteriorated Housing Contributes to High Cockroach Allergen Levels in Inner-City Households.” Environmental Health Perspectives 2 (April 2002): 323-327. JSTOR. Web. 20 March 2015.

Sarpong, Sampson B., Robert G. Hamilton, Peyton A. Eggleston, and N. Franklin Adkinson. “Socioeconomic Status and Race as Risk Factors for Cockroach Allergen Exposure and Sensitization in Children with Asthma.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 6 (June 1996): 1393-1401. ScienceDirect. Web. 20 March 2015.

Stevenson, Lori A., Peter J. Gergen, Donald R. Hoover, David Rosenstreich, David M. Mannino, and Thomas D. Matte. “Sociodemographic Correlates of Indoor Allergen Sensitivity among United States Children.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 5 (November 2001): 747-752. ScienceDirect. Web. 20 March 2015.

On Making Farmed Animal Sanctuaries the Most Liberatory Spaces Possible

Hey, ya’ll. A conversation I recently had with a fellow radical anti-speciesist whom I deeply trust and respect got me thinking about the farmed animal sanctuary model in the context of humanitarian efforts.

Let me be very clear about what I do and do not seek to do in this post. First, I seek to demonstrate how we might think about farmed animal sanctuaries as establishing a similar structure to that of humanitarian refugee camps. With this argument, I in no way intend to conflate the very unique sufferings experienced respectively by human refugees and sanctuary residents, nor do I intend to suggest that sanctuaries represent the equivalent of humanitarian camps for other species.  I also do not wish to attack farmed animal sanctuaries or assert definitively that any sanctuary currently engages in the exploitative rhetoric and practices that I expand upon below.

My goal with this argument is to point to the oppressive logic manifest in humanitarian efforts – which must be challenged in and of itself – and to question how anti-speciesists might work to ensure that farmed animal sanctuaries do not similarly operate in ways that further exploit the individuals they aim to assist.

That said, I am not aware of every single oppressive assumption I hold thanks to my lifelong socialization in a culture of white supremacist heteropatriarchy, and very much welcome your thoughts on my presentation of this potentially divisive topic. 

In the sense that farmed animal sanctuaries endeavor to satisfy the basic needs of and provide a satisfactory home for their residents, I think that we may be able to interpret these spaces as functioning with a similar structural goal as humanitarian camps do for displaced peoples. Following this interpretation, I would also contend that sanctuaries fall under threat of perpetuating rhetoric and practices that further oppress their residents, as humanitarian camps have been proven to do.

For example, the now-profitable logic of humanitarianism — said to operate in organized efforts to alleviate suffering under an ethics of universal kindness and sympathy — depends upon the continued production of refugees in order to ensure its own functioning. Consider the vast network of organizations, professional personnel, research programs, and beyond that receive generous amounts of funding and notoriety for their supposed benevolence. How, if their economic wellbeing necessitates the existence of displaced peoples, can such entities purport to support the eradication of the underlying systems that cause forced displacement in the first place? As Weizman notes, humanitarians often become “media celebrities” (42) who use emotional refugee testimonies to “compete for money in the charitable market” (45). In this formation, the suffering of displaced peoples becomes necessary in bolstering the economic health of humanitarianism.

As I alluded to above, humanitarianism’s dependency upon the production of refugees means that the root problems — namely, war and imperialism — causing displacement go far unchecked, and that refugees lose autonomy as humanitarians speak for them and manage their lives in camps.

Farmed animal sanctuaries — namely, large-scale, nationally recognized ones with substantial donor bases — too have become potential spaces for profitable endeavors, and thus risk sacrificing the autonomy and ultimate liberation of their residents and all other farmed animals in the name of the sanctuary’s own continued functioning. As my good friend Rocky Schwartz noted in her presentation at the 2014 Students for Critical Animal Studies Conference, even though “farmed animal sanctuaries attempt to rectify [farmed animals’ loss of bodily autonomy in animal agriculture], empowering the individuals rescued by allowing them to assert control over their own bodies in a non-commodifying context,” there are:

“…some inherent limitations to the restoration of bodily autonomy within a farmed animal sanctuary framework that are not as apparent in sanctuaries of undomesticated species. Clearly, there will be instances in which an individual’s body is interacted with in a manner they are uncomfortable with, such as when the administration of medicine is necessary. Likewise, focusing specifically on the female-bodied and the unique disempowerment these individuals face: poultry cannot be spayed or neutered, so fertilized eggs with the potential to hatch are taken away from hens who wish to protect them; mammals are routinely spayed and neutered, highly invasive procedures; individuals of all farmed species continue to experience health issues due to their selective breeding that essentially render them prisoners in their own bodies.”

I’m fairly confident in my trust of sanctuary staff in their determinations of the necessity of certain medical practices or behavioral interventions (though I can’t speak from the experience of working at a sanctuary, as Rocky can). However, I do still feel it important to reckon with the fact that, in this sense, sanctuaries cannot provide their residents with full autonomy or liberation. Specifically, I wonder how much of this inability stems from individual residents’ histories of systematic exploitation, and how much stems from the sanctuary’s own striving to secure funds. Additionally, I wonder how much sanctuaries are doing — or, really, how much they can do — to address the root causes of their residents’ losses of bodily autonomy (i.e., domestication and selective breeding).

What would offering fuller autonomy to sanctuary residents look like? In contemplating this question, I’m drawn to the notion of voice. As Agier points out, “[i]n the spaces of the humanitarian apparatus, to be heard, injustice must be spoken in the language of the humanitarian vulgate, which is the only convention of speech locally audible” (2010, 42). That is, those managing the camps must relay the experiences of refugees in a manner that will elicit the greatest emotional response from potential funders, thereby positioning refugees as politically irrelevant victims rather than political agents. In response, Weizman suggests that humanitarian spaces must “be conceived in a way that supports the politics of the displaced themselves” (61).

To me, supporting the politics of sanctuary residents would mean repositioning ourselves not as the voices of other animals – those who speak for sanctuary residents — but as the amplifiers of the voices that sanctuary residents have themselves. It would mean engaging in the intensely difficult work of learning the language of sanctuary residents — and all other animals — rather than assuming that we always know what is best for them. And even that is a hugely abstract act — one which necessitates our challenging of the very heart of our internalized speciesism.

For now, I look to the leaders of the microsanctuary movement, who are challenging the notion that providing sanctuary for other animals requires hundreds of acres and thousands of dollars, and instead depends upon an attitude of respect and non-exploitation. Founded by Justin and Rosemary Van Kleeck with Triangle Chance for All, the microsanctuary movement seems to me like a prime place to look for ways to prevent farmed animal sanctuaries from becoming spaces that further the exploitation of other animals. (Check out my interview with Justin for more information on the philosophy behind microsanctuaries.)

What do ya’ll think? Am I totally off-point? I would love to get some dialogue going here because this is a topic with which I’m certainly having trouble grappling.

In solidarity, Ali.


Agier, Michel. “Between War and City: Towards an Urban Anthropology of Refugee Camps.” Ethnography 3.3 (2002): 317-341. Print.

—. “Humanity as an Identity and Its Political Effects (A Note on Camps and Humanitarian Government.” Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development 1.1 (Fall 2010): 29-45. Print.

Catlaw, Thomas J. and Thomas M. Holland. “Regarding the Animal: On Biopolitics and the Limits of Humanism in Public Administration.” Administrative Theory & Praxis 34.1 (March 2012): 85-112. Web. ProQuest. 6 March 2015.

Schwartz, Rocky. “Restoration of Bodily Autonomy for the Female-Bodied of Domesticated Species within a Sanctuary Framework.” Vassar College. Leacock Building, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. 30 March 2014. Conference Presentation.

Weizman, Eyal. The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza. London: Verso, 2011. Print.

York, Richard. “Book Review: Nicole Shukin Animal Capital: Rnedering Life in Biopolitical Times Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.” Organization & Environment 24.1 (March 2011): 99-101. Web. Sage Journals. 6 March 2015.