Beyond “Animal Rights”

This post was also featured on Species and Class.

Welcome to the week, everyone! A couple of months ago I put into writing some reflections upon the consumerist base of the mainstream “vegan” movement (I enclose vegan in quotation marks because I feel that its real meaning has been obscured, which I will expand upon below), and today I want to complicate the movement’s primary framing of its goal as achieving “animal rights.”

First, I’d like to lay out my understanding of veganism – built upon the work of other radical activists before me – as a radical politics steeped in anti-speciesism (if we define speciesism as the belief of the inherent superiority of human beings over all other beings on earth). As Ida Hammer notes, veganism is a social change movement “based on the […] ideal of non-exploitation,” and certain practices like eating an animal-free diet logically flow from this principle that we should not exploit others (November 2008). This view of veganism as a struggle for societal change rightly frames vegans as those “who seek out the root of a problem so that [they] may strike at it for a solution” (Dominick)—the definition of a radical. As radicals, vegans “base [their] choices on a radical understanding of what animal oppression really is, and [their] lifestyle is highly informed and politicized” (Dominick), rather than steeped in the mere refusal to consume the bodies of other animals.

To form a radical movement, activists must move beyond measures to reform existing structures of oppression, and instead demand a revolutionary dismantling and rebuilding of society. In the wise words of Audre Lorde, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

However, the mainstream “vegan” movement focuses heavily on reforming oppressive structures, such as lobbying for legislation to ban gestation crates and other forms of cruelty found in animal agriculture, and shifting the animal-based market to a plant-based (but still capitalist) one. Generally, the movement takes the stance that human conceptions of other animals can shift to embrace anti-speciesism under the exploitative structures of capitalism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy that have constructed our notions of being. Um, no.

Another exploitative structure that the mainstream “vegan” movement upholds is the nation-state, defined academically as “a form of political organization in which a group of people who share the same history, traditions, or language live in a particular area under one government” (Merriam-Webster). The modern world was founded upon the nation-state, and structures all dominant forms of political life today. Perceiving itself in a state of perpetual crisis under the “threat” of those who do not fit the standardized definition of a citizen (think of refugees, immigrants, “terrorists,” etc.), the nation-state “undertake[s] the management of the biological life of the nation directly as its own task” (Agamben). In other words, the nation-state controls the lives of all those within its jurisdiction (and often those beyond).

One integral aspect of the nation-state is the notion of rights. Though posited as a set of values by which the nation-state’s legislative body must abide in order to ensure the well-being of its citizens, rights truly function as another method of control by deeming certain bodies as worthy of political life, and others as lesser beings unable to function as fully political beings. As historian Faisal Devji notes, rights “can only be guaranteed by states and are thus never truly in the possession of those who bear them” (3099); indeed, it is only in forms of political organization in which power is concentrated in elite hands that rights come to hold any meaning (Fotopoulous & Sargis).

Thus, by advocating for the bestowal of rights upon other animals, “vegan” activists work to uphold the inherently violent and oppressive nation-state—a structure that must be challenged in order for the collective liberation of all beings to truly take form.

The “vegan” movement’s operation within a rights-based framework also works to more explicitly uphold speciesism, since it assumes that other animals desire to be indoctrinated into our anthropocentric institution of the nation-state. This framework therefore implies the superiority of human-created ideas and structures over those of other beings.

So if not rights, then for what should we as radical vegans strive? I definitely don’t purport to have all the answers here, but I would like to share with you some of Gandhi’s lesser-known ideas – as paraphrased by Devji and further interpreted by me – about how to reconceptualize what it might mean to act as a political being. Though abstract, these ideas have certainly opened up for me new possibilities of what form radical veganism might take.

Gandhi proposed and enacted a politics based on moral duties rather than rights, in which each individual would commit to their moral duties rather than fighting for their rights, such that we no longer have any dependence on the state. Our duties would question how one’s self ought relate to others, and in a way that does not prioritize one’s own needs. In this politics, we would think of ourselves as moral agents rather than victims whose rights are threatened. Even though the focus in this politics would be on the individual, this focus would not be a neoliberal one since it’s devoted to building relationships and community with others.

What do ya’ll think—do you find Gandhi’s framework helpful? What do you consider to be the goals of radical veganism? It’s questions like these that I ponder on a daily basis, so I’d really love to hear your thoughts.

In solidarity, Ali.


References

Agamben, Giorgio. Means without End: Notes on Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000. Print.

Anonymous. “Animal Liberation: Devastate to Liberate, or Devastatingly Liberal?” The Anarchist Library. 8 May 2009. Web. 20 February 2015.

Devji, Faisal. The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the Temptation of Violence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012. Kindle file.

Dominick, Brian A. “Animal Liberation and Social Revolution.” The Anarchist Library. 1997. Web. 20 February 2015.

Fotopoulos, Takis and John Sargis. “Human Liberation vs. Animal Liberation.” The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy 2.3 (June 2006): n. pag. Web. 20 February 2015.

Hammer, Ida. “Reclaiming Veganism from the Margins.” The Vegan Ideal. 21 June 2008. Web. 20 February 2015.

—. “Veganism: Not to be Confused with Animal Rights.” The Vegan Ideal. 19 November 2008. Web. 20 February 2015.

“Nation-state.” Merriam Webster. Web. 20 February 2015.

Staudenmeier, Peter. “Ambiguities of Animal Rights.” Institute for Social Ecology. 1 January 2005. Institute for Social Ecology. Web. 20 February 2015.

Subversive Energy. “Beyond Animal Liberation.” The Anarchist Library. 27 May 2012. Web. 20 February 2015.

Interview with Justin Van Kleeck of Triangle Chance for All Microsanctuary

Ya’ll, I am super excited to share today’s post. If you checked out my recently updated “About” page, you’ll know that my new goal for the blog since its change in name and direction is to contribute to the growth of a vibrant community of feminism, anti-racism, and anti-speciesism.

One way in which I hope to strive for this ongoing goal is to feature the work of activists whose voices are usually muffled by the mainstream vegan/animal rights movement, such as in the “Awesome Projects You Should Totally Check Out” section of my weekly # NewsandChews posts. Today, however, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to highlight such work in the form of a firsthand interview with intersectional activist Justin Van Kleeck, President of the Triangle Chance for All Microsanctuary and blogger at Striving with Systems. Justin is full of passion, vibrancy, and kindness, and I’m certain that what he has to say about reconceptualizing the sanctuary, the problems within the vegan/animal rights movement, and what a future of collective liberation can look like will incite and inspire you. Be sure to connect with Justin and Triangle Chance for All on Facebook and Twitter!

Justin Van Kleeck / Photo via TCA Microsanctuary

Justin Van Kleeck / Photo via TCA Microsanctuary


Ali Seiter (AS): Can you give an overview of your work with and goals for the Triangle Chance for All microsanctuary?

Justin Van Kleeck (JVK): Triangle Chance for All’s primary goal is to liberate farmed animals from the agricultural system and provide or secure them permanent sanctuary, whether that means by making them residents at our small microsanctuary in central North Carolina, by placing them at other vegan sanctuaries, or by helping facilitate their transport to vegan homes. This all started in late 2013 after my partner, Rosemary, and I started to notice that farmed animals were coming through shelters but had almost no hope of being “rescued”; their fate was pretty clearly dismal: either returning to an exploitative farming situation or being killed at the shelter. It was truly heartbreaking to see these refugees of animal agriculture make it out and then have no one there to help there to keep them out.

We originally planned to rescue and place as many of these animals as possible, but we quickly realized that space was limited even at large sanctuaries. Thus, we shifted gears and re-envisioned what sanctuary is and can be. Once we realized that “sanctuary” is not just about quantities—number of acres, animals, staff, or funds raised—but about an attitude of respect and non-exploitation, we started to see ourselves as a microsanctuary. We took in our first two permanent residents, the hens Clementine and Amandine, in February of 2014. Currently our residents include eight roosters, fifteen hens, one duck, and two potbelly pigs.

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AS: What is a microsanctuary and how would you define the “microsanctuary movement”?

JVK: I tend to think of a microsanctuary as any space run by a vegan that is home to rescued animals and emphasizes their health and happiness. So someone with a rescued house rooster is just as much a sanctuary (by virtue of being a microsanctuary) as a million-dollar non-profit with hundreds of acres and hundreds of animals. I am frustrated by how self-limiting we all tend to be when it comes to our views of sanctuaries. I so often hear people say that they want to start their own sanctuary one day if they win the lottery, or without any clear idea of what “sanctuary” really means to them and how to get there. I was there once, and the notion of a typical sanctuary was so daunting that I did not even know where to start to make it happen. By throwing out the ideal, I was able to really think about what sanctuary means for the residents and the caregivers. It is a very powerful relationship and way of living, as well as a perspective on the world and our role as caregivers.

This sense of dedication to the service of rescued farmed animals, as a way to end (and help ameliorate in some way) their exploitation, is what lies at the heart of sanctuary—and on an individual level truly defines a microsanctuary.

The Microsanctuary Movement is an effort Rosemary and I started from our work with TCA to help empower others to rescue farmed animals and self-identify as being part of a sanctuary, both through information and resources and through support networks. We are working on our website right now, but in the meantime we have been trying to share helpful tidbits through The Microsanctuary Movement’s Facebook page and our Facebook group, Vegans with Chickens. Through these and future means, we hope that the movement will inspire many vegans to rescue farmed animals, whether that be a rooster and some hens, or a few goats, or whatever species they can accommodate. To me, this is truly revolutionary because relying on large sanctuaries exclusively means limited ability to rescue (or liberate) farmed animals. Large sanctuaries can usually take in a few hundred animals at most, and so much of their income goes to administrative and other non-care costs. Comparatively, a few thousand vegans each rescuing a handful of animals would open up so much more space and (this is important) resources for care.

Another component of this for me is a shift in how I see myself as a vegan. It is no longer so much a negative orientation, in the sense that I am trying to not cause harm or not be part of exploitation. It feels so much more positive to have a direct role in and responsibility for the care of the very individuals for whom I went vegan. I am and always have been vegan for the animals; saving and sustaining the lives of as many of them I can has given my veganism so much more depth, meaning, and relevance.

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AS: Can you share a specific story of one or more TCA residents?

JVK: Oh, there are so many beautiful and gut-wrenching stories. One of the dearest to my heart is that of Bibi, a tiny little hen who came to us after her three flock-mates were killed by a raccoon who broke into the “chicken tractor” they all lived in in someone’s backyard. Bibi barely survived and was maimed in the attack: her top beak was partially bitten off, a hole was punched into her bottom beak, and she also lost part of a wattle. When she arrived, she was clearly suffering from PTSD; she spent several weeks just sitting in a bathroom like a lump. She started to come out of her shell when we put a mirror in with her, and then she really regained some of her spark when we brought in one of our other hens, Hypatia, to be a companion for her. Now she is a real fireball, with plenty of spunk and attitude. She has had to have surgery on her beak since then, but she really rolls with the punches.

Bibi’s story highlights so many of the problems with backyard chicken-keeping (for example, she was part of a hatching project, which resulted in eight of twelve chicks who were roosters and so were sent back to the farmer and most likely killed). We feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity to give her a better life.

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AS: When/why did you start advocating for other animals?

JVK: I went vegan in 1999 when I was a sophomore in college. I had never met a vegan, but I started questioning the ethics of what I was eating. I was vegetarian at the time, and I started to ask myself if I could justify even potentially causing suffering to animals. I mulled it all over for a few days, realized very clearly that I could not, and became vegan shortly before my twentieth birthday. I have never looked back.

My advocacy started much later—around a decade later in fact. I was always openly vegan, but I had a lot of personal stuff to work through before I could start to speak out more widely and vocally about veganism. I have evolved a lot even since then, going from something of an “I’m okay, you’re okay” attitude to an uncompromising stance against all forms of oppression. The principles behind my advocacy are given so much more gravity, of course, by the fact that I am now fighting for family members, not just ideas and abstractions (“farmed animals” as a category comprising billions of individual beings is often a hard thing to make viscerally relevant; your beloved companion chicken is impossible not to).

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AS: What changes would you like to see in today’s vegan/animal rights movement?

JVK: This is a tough one to answer, because I do not know for sure which approach is the right one for making new vegans that everyone should be using (and I feel strongly that anyone who says they found the Holy Grail of vegan outreach is delusional).

First and foremost, though, I fear that veganism/AR has largely bought in to the “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death” mindset of modern Western capitalism. Too many of us are more focused on what we consume than how we are directly, positively making the world better for our fellow living beings. It is a well-known problem: a new vegan-friendly cheese, ice cream, or restaurant will always receive more attention (and financial backing—that is important to remember) than, say, protests, social justice programs, or hunger relief. I think we have gotten to a point where corporations have realized that plant-based foods are a thriving marketing niche, and (as consumers) we are rallying behind the things that we enjoy in our lives.

The shitty thing about all of this is that consumerism is a subtle soporific for ethical principles. We are surrounded by a (so-called) “liberal” narrative in which we believe that if we buy better things, we are thereby directly changing the world for the better (what Slavoj Zizek calls “cultural capitalism”). It is so easy to substitute products—stuff—for actual meaningful values and truly impactful activism that threatens the many powers and systems that maintain the status quo—a status quo of institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and of course speciesism (to name a few).

There is no real sense of urgency, I fear, in the vegan/AR movement. Our activism, if you want to even call it that, is really more about fitting things into our schedules and our lifestyles, not about inconveniencing ourselves in order to hit at the foundation of oppression. Not enough of us genuinely feel in our bodies the reality that billions upon billions of other animals are being bred, raised, used, slaughtered, and consumed like just another commodity across the world. While I believe many forms and messages of outreach, advocacy, and activism are needed, I think it absolutely crucial that we see this for what it is: a matter of incomprehensible suffering that shows very little sign of slowing down. It is left to us, as the ones who see what is happening, to stop the cogs of the machine; and if they will not stop, they must be broken.

I also think it crucial that we vegans take seriously the rampant specieism and other forms of bigotry in our own movement. We have not arrived to perfection by going vegan, and so many of the prejudices of our culture get carried into our advocacy. This has to stop.

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AS: What, if anything, does intersectional activism mean to you?

JVK: To me it largely centers on the idea that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and our activism should take seriously the interconnectedness of oppressions as a relevant problem for our specific issues. Intersectional activism means recognizing not only the value, but also the importance of engaging other communities who are struggling against a particular oppression in solidarity. It means speaking out and fighting against all forms of oppression honestly, not as a way to push our own specific agenda as vegans with a half-assed nod to another movement. We have to stop pretending that just getting everyone to go vegan will actually solve all the problems on our planet. Each form of oppression is unique, just as those who most suffer from it face unique situations, but I also believe that the underlying roots of oppression are intertwining and impossible to deal with separately. We all have much to gain by embracing and committing ourselves to other social justice movements…because any oppression is wrong and must not be endured.

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AS: Can you tell us about your blog Striving with Systems?

JVK: Striving with Systems basically started out as a place for me to put some of my writing on veganism, animal rights, and liberationism. I am not a prolific writer by any means, but writing is an important component of my work as an advocate and activist, and it was helpful to have somewhere for all of that to go. The name comes from an epic poem by William Blake (who was the focus of my academic work, I should mention) that describes a ceaseless struggle with the many Systems that keep us from thriving—institutions, regimes, cultural mores, traditions… I started putting more energy into it when I began interviewing interesting (and badass) vegans—originally the focus was on vegans in heavy metal, but that expanded rapidly along with my commitment to intersectionality.

Recently, I reached out to some friends and fellow intersectional vegan writers to come on board as collaborators, so that Striving with Systems could become a collective effort. Charlotte Eure and Christopher Sebastian McJetters are two amazingly insightful advocates and powerful writers, and their perspectives on oppression add so much to what I had been doing on my own. I have no aspirations (or hope, honestly) to make it the next One Green Planet or anything; the focus is much more on offering unfettered responses to the vast instances of exploitation of other animals and humans that we are surrounded by. We are (and will be) covering a variety of topics, not just veganism, both through original content on the blog and by sharing resources on the Facebook page.

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AS: What kind of world are you striving for?

JVK: That is a hard one to answer concretely… I so, so often find myself pondering the question, “What will the world look like after total liberation from oppression is achieved?” It is much easier to take a critical stance and focus on all the things that are wrong in this world, and then to throw myself into fighting them. I know what I want to stop, but I do not know what all of that actually looks like on the other side of liberation.

Luckily we do not need a well-wrought model to strive towards; the struggle against oppression needs us now, and ideally, collectively, we would create a better world based on principles of justice, compassion, respect, and community than what we currently have, which is such fertile ground for oppression, aggression (micro and macro), and exploitation to grow from.

In essence, though, I believe I am striving for a world in which no individual being is used as a means to an end, and no individual being is made to feel (or be treated as) lesser than for any reason—be it species, skin color, sexual orientation, gender orientation, weight, or anything else. That will only be possible with a staggeringly comprehensive overhaul of everything that we know in our modern life. It cannot happen if we keep bringing humans into the world as we do, and keep consuming in the ways and amounts that we do, and keep pretending that the human species has some special significance in the universe that makes it more valuable than any other, and keep rationalizing why it is okay for us to benefit from the suffering and exploitation of other beings so that our way of life can keep humming right along.

Our victory against oppression(s) must be as much about our own individual revolutions as it is about social revolution. There is no other way.

All photos via Justin Van Kleeck at Triangle Chance for All.


In solidarity, Ali.

Welcome to “Chickpeas & Change”!

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to the new iteration of my blog: Chickpeas & Change!

A new name AND a hand-drawn logo!

A new name AND a hand-drawn logo!

About a month ago, I expressed my desire to re-frame the blog – formerly known as “Farmers Market Vegan” – with a new name and manifesto that de-centered vegan consumption practices and focused on radical politics grounded in anti-speciesist, anti-racist, and feminist principles. With your help, I decided to celebrate the blog’s new direction under Chickpeas & Change, where I hope to play a small part in feeding a revolution toward collective liberation for all beings.

Read on for a more in-depth account of my reasoning behind shifting the blog’s intentions (which can also be found on my updated “About” page).

For five years starting in my junior year of high school, my identity revolved around veganism and working toward the liberation of other animals. And for good reason: not only did the violence of species-based oppression provide me with my first “social justice awakening,” so to speak, but the intention behind a vegan diet quite literally saved my life from a ravaging eating disorder.

With veganism and animal activism most commonly framed as a consumer boycott of goods that depend upon the commodification of the bodies of other animals, I misguidedly understood the goal of my veganism as a mere dismantling of animal-based industries (agriculture, science labs, entertainment venues, etc.). However, because this goal merely replaces animal-based production with a vegan market, it operates well within the present political-economic order of capitalism, which by definition seeks to commodify anything and everything it can get its hands on – living or inanimate. By perpetuating the myth of “consumer power,” my animal activism was playing right into the speciesist idea that “human beings are superior to all of the other beings on earth, and that this superiority grants us a natural right to make use of the other beings however we like.” Sure, I practiced vegan consumption habits, but I definitely wasn’t challenging the internalized superiority that I believed I as a human held over other animals (aka speciesism)(Read more about the connections between veganism & consumerism here.)

Of course, if I couldn’t recognize my own intellectual arrogance in regards to other animals, I certainly couldn’t recognize how that same arrogance rendered me complicit in the oppressive relationships between colonizers and colonized (colonialism), Westerners and “traditional” societies (imperialism), owners and consumers (capitalism), and the like.

After this wake-up call – instigated thanks to the groundbreaking work of feminist, anti-racist, and anti-speciesist activists (many of whom are listen on my Resources page) – the reasons behind my veganism experienced a profound shift. Once a consumer boycott at the forefront of my politics, my veganism morphed into one among many attempts to question the default ideologies – in this case, speciesism – under which I’ve operated since childhood, and that infringe upon my ability to coexist with others. In other words, my veganism has become an extension of my efforts to foster a truly anti-speciesist politics – a means rather than an end.

Today, I conceptualize my broader politics as a never-ending practice of radical humility grounded in seeking an always imperfect understanding of interlocking oppressions, and guided most by feminist and anti-racist principles.

Striving to challenge these interlocking oppressions in the movement with which I’m most familiar (aka, animal liberation), an integral aspect of my intersectional activism involves confronting the problematic aspects of the current vegan movement, including its racism, sexism, ableism, and focus on capitalist, consumer-based strategies.

Because these oppressions would exist even if I did not eat a vegan diet, and my giving up vegan consumption habits would prevent me from truly challenging my own internalized speciesism, combating such exploitative facets of today’s vegan movement does not involve dismissing vegan consumer habits altogether. However, in order to de-center vegan consumption practices in my anti-speciestist activism, I try to focus on framing species-based oppression as a social justice issue that we must necessarily eradicate on the path toward collective liberation for all beings, to support the work of marginalized anti-speciesist activists, and to de-colonize my mind from all dominant ideologies of violence.

Of course, throughout this exhausting yet fulfilling work, I gotta eat. That’s where the chickpeas come in. So join me in building up the feminist, anti-racist, anti-speciesist community, fueled by plenty of sandwiches, smoothies, and ice cream.

In solidarity, Ali.

Vegan Chews & Progressive News {1-9-15}

Farmers Market Vegan’s “Vegan Chews & Progressive News” series strives to promote artful vegan food and progressive discussion of social issues—both of which prove 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.

Hello and welcome to another edition of Vegan Chews & Progressive News (# NewsandChews)! I’m particularly excited about this installment, and for good reason considering its emphasis on two colorful, flavor-packed recipes, stories related to the continuing saga of U.S. white supremacy as manifested in police-community relations, a super helpful and relevant video for anyone interested in doing intersectional work, and a groundbreaking campaign by one of my favorite anti-speciesist organizations. Happy Friday!

Favorite Newly Published Recipe

Taco Casserole
Via Blue Ridge Babe

Photo via Joy at Blue Ridge Babe.

Photo via Joy at Blue Ridge Babe.

After experiencing undoubtedly the gooiest, heartiest, most scrumptious plate of nachos in my lifetime at The Chicago Diner last weekend, the combination of cheesy, softened tortilla chips, creamy black beans, and spicy jalapenos still peppers my dreams (HA! Peppers? Get it? Because jalapenos are…aww, nevermind.) Anywho, I’d love to dig into a plate of this nooch-filled casserole right about now.

Best Recipe I Made This Week

Roasted Carrot, Chickpea, & Harissa Dip
Via The First Mess

Photo via Laura at The First Mess.

Photo via Laura at The First Mess.

Leave it to Laura’s culinary genius to create this complexly flavored, creamy dip. The combination of succulent roasted carrots and Moroccan-style spices brightened with lemon juice and tomato paste proves delightful eaten on crackers, toast, or the back of a spoon.

Must-Read News Story

This week has brought two news stories that I’d like to highlight today, both of which have a number of articles to accompany them.

The first story involves the NYPD’s work stoppage in protest of Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s creation of a “hostile anti-police environment in the city” (yep, because it was totally his fault that a troubled man decided to tragically kill two police officers in an act that had no relation to NYC protests against the non-indictment of the NYPD officer that killed Eric Garner in a chokehold. Yep.). So now, the police, according to the New York Post, are making arrests “only when they have to,” as opposed to following their usual “broken windows” policy in which they arrest anyone who “fits the description” (i.e., young black person) for the most minor of crimes. Heaven forbid, arresting only when necessary? It’s a wonder the city isn’t erupting in flames.

Check out these articles for more information:

Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone
Kira Lerner and Igor Volsky at ThinkProgress
Dave Lindorff at Counterpunch

Photo via Andrew Burton / Getty Images.

Photo via Andrew Burton / Getty Images.

The second story involves the bombing of an NAACP headquarters in Colorado Spring, CO this past Tuesday. As of yet the bomber remains unidentified. The immense lack of coverage of this story provides further proof (as if we needed any more after years of police killings of unarmed Black people?) that, in the white supremacist United States, Black lives don’t matter (except that they do).

Here are two of the rare stories covering the bombing:

Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress
Associated Press at Huffington Post: Black Voices

The aftermath of a 1963 Jim Crow-era church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four black girls. Photo via Think Progress.

The aftermath of a 1963 Jim Crow-era church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four black girls. Photo via Think Progress.

Favorite Podcast Episode or Video

Five Tips for Being an Ally
(and, like, every other video from Franchesca Ramsey)

Photo via Franchesca Ramsey.

Photo via Franchesca Ramsey.

Franchesca Ramsey (aka, Chescaleigh) is an actress, comedian, and vlogger who has a number of super great videos on her YouTube channel offering tips for how to be a decent person, basically. In addition to this “5 Tips for Being an Ally” video (which feels particularly relevant with all of the phenomenal anti-racist organizing going on right now), Chescaleigh has also made videos on slut-shaming, the n-word double standard, how to apologize after getting called out, and more.

Book Recommendation Awesome Projects That You Should Totally Check Out

Until Every Animal is Free
Via Direct Action Everywhere

Photo via Direct Action Everywhere.

Photo via Direct Action Everywhere.

The radical anti-speciesist organization Direct Action Everywhere has recently become one of my favorite groups, due to their truly transformative, outside-the-system work and their strong intersectional consciousness. They recently launched a new, worldwide campaign called Until Every Animal Is Free, about which I encourage you all to learn about on their Facebook event (and see if there’s an action in your area so you can participate on January 11!). The campaign has also involved DxE’s exposé on a “humane” egg facility that supplies Whole Foods, which garnered coverage at the New York Times. Watch a video of the exposé here.

In solidarity, Ali.

Veganism & Consumerism

Happy holidays, all! After a much-needed reprieve from blogging that allowed me to wrap up my semester work, I’ve journeyed home to Madison, WI to enjoy over a month away from the daily hectic-ness of college life (that I truly adore and realize am immensely privileged to have access to…but appreciate a little break from every once in a while). Now, without a flurry of final papers demanding my attention, I’m excited to offer up a series of blog posts regarding topics that have occupied my thoughts for a while now, the first of which focuses on veganism and consumerism.

A substantial number of radical activists (see my bibliography below the main text of this post) have offered up cogent, change-inspiring writings on the topic long before I even began to understand the issues embedded within the links between veganism and consumerism. As such, in this post I will not attempt to claim responsibility for the ideas or suggestions already in existence, nor will I – as an activist still very much in the early stages of investigating veganism and consumerism – introduce new theoretical formulations on the topic. Rather, I seek to present a summary – informed, as always, by my own positionality – of existing scholarship to an audience perhaps not normally exposed to such information. I should note, however, that I am as of now in complete agreement with the ideas that I am about to re-present.

To begin, existing scholarship on veganism and consumerism argues that the current animal movement revolves around vegan consumption practices – rather than on anti-speciesist politics (which I will expand upon below) – and that this consumerist focus serves to uphold the very structures that commodify all beings (though unevenly, of course. For example, capitalism commodifies Black and brown bodies significantly more than it does white bodies; trans bodies more than it does cis bodies; etc.). By devoting our energies to encouraging those who eat other animals to reduce or eliminate their consumption of other animals, we promote the “fundamental democratic myth” (Gelderloos) that we have full autonomy over the items we buy and consume, and therefore that our purchase of soy milk over cow’s milk functions as an effective way to challenge a violent system of animal exploitation.

However, quite contrary to this notion of consumer-as-autonomous-being is the fact that “consumer” constitutes “a role involuntarily imposed on all of us” (Gelderloos). Indeed, this myth of “purchasing power” and “voting with our dollar” operates well within the present political-economic order of capitalism, which by definition seeks to commodify anything and everything it can get its hands on – living or inanimate.  Without understanding the integral role that capitalism plays in destroying the environment and all of its inhabitants by reducing them to their imposed economic value in the name of unceasing profit accumulation, animal activists will continue to employ strategies that – by focusing on increasing demand for vegan products – ultimately result in the increased oppression of animals, both human and other.

Atlas and Gelderloos provide two rhetorical examples of what the future might entail if we merely replaced animal-based production with a vegan market, without challenging the violent logic of capitalism:

“What if everyone or nearly everyone in wealthy countries adopted a vegan diet? The meat industry would collapse, but other industries and capitalism as a whole would continue, leaving us with the contradiction of a vegan society liberating animals in the limited sense understood by the critique of factory farming, but destroying the environment nonetheless, and all the animals with it” (Gelderloos).

“…a world without slaughterhouses could still be a colonialist one, engaging in excessive consumerism that destroys the lives of non-captive animals through habitat destruction and pollution and other forms of environmental devastation” (qtd. Atlas in Hochschartner).

Assuming the truth of these future scenarios (and I am), then vegan consumerism upholds both a capitalist system that oppresses all but the rich white males who operate within it, and the very speciesism that the logic behind vegan consumerism aims to target. Indeed, if we understand speciesism as “the idea that human beings are superior to all of the other beings on earth, and that this superiority grants us a natural right to make use of the other beings however we like” (qtd. Sanbonmatsu in Rodriguez), then these projected realities suggest that vegan consumerism proves an ultimately speciesist project. By refusing to adopt a stance of radical humility needed to truly see beyond the violent frameworks most easily accessible to those of us with any sorts of privileges, vegan consumerism fails to challenge the internalized superiority held by humans over animals (speciesism), colonizers over colonized (colonialism), Westerners over “traditional” societies (imperialism), owners over consumers (capitalism), and the like.

A significant manifestation of the specifically speciesist form of this internalized superiority is vegan consumerism’s re-centering of 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…).

So what would a humble, animal-centric, anarchistic veganism look like? Existing scholarship suggests that, rather than revolving around consumption, veganism should commit to combating the deeply embedded ideology of speciesism, as well as all other violent ideologies perpetuated by dominant logics (such as capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and white supremacy). I’d like to quote directly from anti-speciesist activists in providing an outline for how to begin conceptualizing this radical veganism.

Ida Hammer calls veganism a “revolutionary theoretical praxis […] that views the abolition of animal exploitation as part of a wider struggle for social justice” (qtd. in Adamas).

Kelly Atlas asserts that vegans “should focus our efforts on creating a culture that values non-discriminatory empathy, not on trying to sell [vegan] products of the consumerist (self-interested) machine.”

Steve Best notes that radical veganism – challenging vegan consumers’ common assertion that “going vegan is so easy!” – proves incredibly difficult, since it “seeks radical social transformation at the institutional level, rather than a lifestyle with occasional and perfunctory efforts at ‘education.'”

For John Sanbonmatsu, “what is at stake is not simply a set of eating guidelines, but a total critique of society – of a way of life that has become inimical to life” (qtd. in Rodriguez).

Though I certainly don’t consider myself an anti-speciesist scholar like those I’ve quoted here, I conceptualize my own veganism as one among many attempts to question the default ideologies – in this case, speciesism – under which I’ve operated since childhood, and that infringe upon my ability to coexist with others.

All of this is not to invalidate vegan consumption, which is distinct from vegan consumerism in that the latter promotes capitalism by actively advocating for an increased demand of vegan products. Vegan consumption, on the other hand, sees itself as an extension of anti-speciesist politics – a means rather than an end. As Gelderloos notes, “some people find it emotionally easier or more sensible to struggle for animal liberation if nothing they eat once had a face; some people do not want to put anything in their bodies that lived a tortured life, and veganism serves as an effective psychological barrier against some of the worst atrocities of capitalism, even if practically speaking it makes no difference in ending those atrocities or one’s material connection to them.”

We cannot continue to assume that anti-speciesist politics automatically follow vegan consumption practices. Instead, in order to hope for true collective liberation for all beings, we must regard our vegan consumption as a secondary manifestation of our anti-speciesist politics – politics that must include an analysis of capitalism, heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, and other oppressive dominant ideologies.

In solidarity, Ali.


Bibliography

Adamas. “A Critique of Consumption-Centered Veganism.” H.E.A.L.T.H: Humans, Earth, and Animals Living Together Harmoniously. 3 June 2011. H.E.A.L.T.H. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

Atlas, Kelly. “Challenging Our Own Status Quo.” Direct Action Everywhere. Direct Action Everywhere. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

–. “How the ‘Go Vegan’ Message Perpetuates the Objectification of Nonhumans.” Direct Action Everywhere. December 2013. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

–. “Intrinsically Moved: The Main Reason Consumerist Advocacy Is the Wrong Approach.” Direct Action Everywhere. April 2014. Direct Action Everywhere. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

Best, Dr. Steve. “The Degeneration of Veganism: From Politics, Science, and Ethics to Lifestyle Consumerism, Fundamentalism, and Religion.” 14 Sept. 2011. Dr. Steve Best. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

Corman, Lauren. “Capitalism, Veganism, and the Animal Industrial Complex.” Species and Class. 6 Oct. 2014. Species and Class. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

Direct Action Everywhere. “Reflections on Consumer Boycotts.” Direct Action Everywhere. November 2013. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

–. “Tension and Vegan Consumerism.” Direct Action Everywhere. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

–. “Veganism: Panacea or Pitfall?” Direct Action Everywhere. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

Gauguin, Percy. “Communism as Veganism.” Species and Class. 23 Aug. 2014. Species and Class. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

Gelderloos, Peter. “Veganism Is a Consumer Activity.” The Anarchist Library. 2008. The Anarchist Library. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

–. “Veganism: Why Not.” The Anarchist Library. 2011. The Anarchist Library. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

Green, Chad. “Total Liberation: A Call for Direct Action, Radical Veganism, and Anarchy.” Vegan Warfare. 13 May 2013. Vegan Warfare. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

Hochschartner, Jon. “DxE’s Kelly Atlas Talks Anarchism.” Species and Class. 17 Oct. 2014. Species and Class. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

Hsiung, Wayne. “Buying Our Movement.” Direct Action Everywhere. November 2013. Direct Action Everywhere. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

Rodriguez, Sartya. “Interview with John Sanbonmatsu, Associate Professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.” Direct Action Everywhere. Direct Action Everywhere. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

Wrenn, Corey Lee. “Why I am No Longer an Animal Rights Activist.” The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. 17 Dec. 2014. The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

A Vegan Thanksgiving is Still Violent

In light of the Thanksgiving holiday and the recipe guides popping up with increasing frequency on food blogs, I’d like to share with ya’ll a call to take a different approach to Thanksgiving this year.

The Canada-based Native organization Idle No More, along with its branches in Minnesota, have teamed up with the Institute for Critical Animal Studies to ask animal advocacy groups to boycott, ban, and protest Thanksgiving instead of engaging in advocacy themed around this violent holiday. Rather, this coalition is calling for animal advocacy groups to “recognize it as a national day to mourn the genocide by white settlers of Native Americans and First Nation peoples.”

Though I could write in more detail about why Thanksgiving is based in the arrogant ethnocentrism of the settlers who uprooted Native peoples from their land and decimated them, all in the name of building the ever-imperial U.S. as we know it today, I feel that it is more appropriate for me – instead of accepting credit for already-existing information authored by those with historical and familial connections to Native genocide – to refer you to the in-depth, well-written articles that already exist.

Instead of hosting our usual vegan Thanksgiving dinner in the campus dining hall this year, the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) is installing a poster just outside the hall explaining this call from Idle No More and ICAS, and why we have decided to participate in it. We take this action not to “feel good” about ourselves for being “good social justice activists,” but because a group on the front lines of Native struggle is asking groups like ours to take action.

Though I will be sharing a rather more involved and special meal with my loved ones on Thanksgiving day – celebrating not the “peaceful unification” of Native American peoples and white settlers (what bunk) but instead the love I feel for those around me, my appreciation for the harvest season,  and the fact that I have access to its bounty – I plan to do so while recognizing my own positionality as someone who can still easily perpetuate the violent erasure of Native peoples, and actively seeking ways to rail against this tendency. Some starting points for me may include enrolling in a Native Studies course at my college, advocating for my college to hire more Native Studies faculty, and researching the history of Native peoples specific to the geographic context in which I grew up.

Below I’ve copied the text from the Facebook group that includes the call from Idle No More and ICAS:

Calling Animal Advocacy Groups to Boycott, Ban and Protest Thanksgiving

NATIONAL ACTION

The Institute for Critical Animal Studies, Idle No More Duluth, Idle No More Twin Cities, #NotYourMascot, and other Native organizations (still confirming) are asking all animal advocacy groups to promote social justice this November by boycotting Thanksgiving Day (and any Thanksgiving related events) and recognizing it as a national day to morn a violent genocide by white settlers of Native Americans and First Nations People.

“Boycott” here means not holding public vegan Thanksgiving events and making a commitment not to celebrate Thanksgiving in one’s personal life as well. If you are like us, you believe that veganism is an ethical model for the world; let’s also lead the charge against an out-dated holiday with a make-believe history that covers up the true genocidal history of the U.S.

Turkey or Tofurkey, marshmallows or Dandies, traditional pumpkin pie or dairy-free pumpkin pie—you are still celebrating genocide … and that is *not* vegan.

There is no such thing as a vegan Thanksgiving. Don’t ignore one form of oppression to promote another. Veganism is nonviolence; genocide isn’t.
___________________________________________
Animal Advocacy Groups Boycotting Thanksgiving Events (not supporting genocide)

1. Institute for Critical Animal Studies
2. Progress for Science
3. Portland Animal Liberation
4. Student Animal Liberation Coalition
5. Resistance Ecology

In solidarity, Ali.

Classic Tomato Soup | The Future of Veganism?

tomato soup (2)

Hello, all! Just a heads up: as I’ve mentioned recently, I’m journeying into the depths of a very demanding period in terms of schoolwork, so please expect (and forgive!) shorter posts for the next month or so. Thank you all for understanding.

Today I want to address a topic that’s certainly not new, but about which my thoughts have so continually morphed that I didn’t feel confident enough to address. My thoughts are still morphing, but – in an ongoing attempt to chip away at my often destructive perfectionist tendencies – I’ve decided to share them with you all anyway, in the hopes that you’ll contribute to their constant transformation.

Ever since the world first heard about lab-grown meat, the media has provocatively asked if in-vitro animal products – most recently like milk and cheese, with their substantially less destructive impact on the planet and the lives of other animals – constitute the “future of food,” with many in more mainstream animal rights circles similarly hailing these products as the “future of veganism.”

My primary concerns with these products, however, are twofold: for one, they don’t challenge the carnist belief that eating animals proves “normal, natural, and necessary”; for another, I wonder about their accessibility – the point on which I’d like to focus today’s post.

Synthesized and cooked in Silicon Valley for a whopping $300,000, the world’ first test-tube hamburger certainly doesn’t jive with the pro-in-vitro animal product rhetoric that lab-grown meat can “feed the world” (unless, of course, the state continues to wreak havoc on poor communities to the point that only those who can shell out thousands of dollars per meal remain…but that’s rather conspiratorial). In more recent news, the in-vitro cheese company Real Vegan Cheese has raised over $37,000 to develop its product, while the animal-free milk startup Muufri has received even more generous amounts of monetary investment.

Please understand that I don’t mean to attack these companies – I think they’re doing wonderful and noble work in prompting individuals to question the viability of continuing to consume animal products. And hey, maybe we will be able to find in-vitro meat, cheese, milk, whatever in conventional supermarkets and heck, perhaps even in gas stations, and maybe it will end up costing mere cents per ounce. But for right now, I’m wondering why we’re so financially invested in developing these rather unnecessary products (I think most of my readers have realized by now that one can thrive on an animal-free diet), and not instead redirecting this money toward the impoverished communities whose only available options for fresh produce often only involves an overripe orange in a basket at the bodega checkout counter, and whose government subsidies become increasingly threatened every day.

Rather than conceptualize lab-grown animal products – no matter how well-intentioned a venture – as the future of veganism, I’d rather see our movement start to really confront the structural inequalities of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, settler colonialism and the like, that leave Black and brown bodies hungry and contribute to the overwhelmingly white, middle- and upper-class constituency of the animal rights and vegan movements. This is not to say that people of color and lower class groups and individuals have not made immensely valuable contributions to the animal rights and vegan movements that should circulate much more widely than they currently do – think of A. Breeze Harper, Animal Liberationists of Color, Angela Davis, Cesar Chavez and more. However, the white and class privileged majority of AR still prevails, often tokenizing these groups and individuals (essentially as I have just done) as evidence that, “But wait! There are people of color in our movement! We’re inclusive!”…all while the most visible activists – those who head up mainstream organizations and speak at events most often –  remain largely white and middle/upper-class.

In my view, we – vegans, animal rights activists, the world – don’t need in-vitro animal products. What we do need is an end to the structural subjugation of Black and brown bodies woven into the very fabric of our society, which we as animal rights activists can start to confront in our own movement.

If all this hasn’t heated you up enough, be sure to take a couple sips of this warming, satisfyingly simple tomato soup. Paired with an ooey-gooey vegan grilled (non-in-vitro) cheese sandwich, this smooth and classically flavored soup will give you the energy to start engaging in the difficult and ongoing work I’ve advocated above. Because with a soup and sandwich, we can do anything, right?

tomato soup (1)

Classic Tomato Soup

Serves 2.

Ingredients:

2 tsp melted coconut or olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 tsp dried thyme
3 cups canned tomatoes, low-sodium if possible
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 cups vegetable broth or 4 cups water + 2 tsp/half a cube vegan bouillon
1 tsp agave nectar
1/2 cup non-dairy milk (I like almond here)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a medium-sized soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, caraway, and thyme; saute for another minute.

Add the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, vegetable broth or bouillon-ed water, and agave. Bring to a boil, cover partially, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and, either directly in the pot with an immersion blender or in batches in a stand blender, puree the soup until very smooth. Stir in the non-dairy milk and pepper to taste and serve, sprinkling the top of each soup bowl with additional black pepper, if desired.

Recipe submitted to Virtual Vegan Linky Potluck.

In solidarity, Ali.