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

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

Photo via Our Hen House.

Photo via Our Hen House.

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

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

In solidarity, Ali.

[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.

Untitled

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.

Removing Patriarchal History, Metaphor, and Gender from “Mother Earth”

 Though I avowed to take a three-week hiatus from the blogosphere in order to devote myself to my end-of-semester studies, I discovered enough time in my work-filled schedule to share with you, dear readers, a recent essay that I wrote for my previously mentioned Women’s Studies course entitled “Gender and Nature.” The course has primarily illuminated the connections between subjugated others (animals, women, people of color), challenged the nature/culture binary, and prompted us to ponder how to best cultivate a symbiotic relationship between human and non-human worlds. Led by the brilliant feminist vegetarian geologist Jill Schneiderman, the course never fails to prompt in me deep thought regarding my sense of self in relation to the broader context of Earth, and it saddens me to think that this Wednesday marks my last session of the course. Needless to say, I plan to visit Professor Schneiderman’s office hours quite often.

The essay I’d like to offer ruminates upon the implications of the use of the term “Mother Earth.” Though perhaps not directly related to veganism or animal rights, it certainly contains intriguing notions about how we as humans might come to envision a more mutually beneficial relationship with the planet and all of its inhabitants. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the piece.

Removing Patriarchal History, Metaphor, and Gender from “Mother Earth”

From infancy to young adulthood, I prepared for bed each night by reading alongside my mother. The books that I preferred her to read aloud included an illustrated tome of Greek myths which first introduced me to Gaia—the earth goddess, great mother of all life, Mother Earth. Smitten with the vibrant photos and mythology, my toddler-aged self could not have fathomed the current controversy surrounding the naked green woman who graced the first page of my beloved collection of bedtime stories. Many feminist scholars today insist that, in our patriarchal society, the term “Mother Earth” prompts humankind to exploit the earth while assuming that she, as our mother, will forever nurture and sustain us. Others assert that conceptualizing the earth as a family member inspires humans to honor and care for the natural world. While over a decade ago I would have abandoned consideration of these opposing views in favor of building Hogwarts Castle out of Legos, I’ve now come to regard an analysis of the mother-earth relationship as integral to the cultivation of a non-oppressive environmental ethos.

Tracing the male-dominated history of western modernization highlights the exploitative coupling of women and nature that persists in the contemporary western use of the “Mother Earth” metaphor, robbing both parties of agency and perpetuating the harmful dualisms of man versus woman, man versus nature. Ultimately, we must cease to envision the earth as both inherently female and cared for only by women, instead cultivating compassion and respect toward all life in non-gendered terms in order to embolden the health of the planet and the societal role of women.

            In chapter seven of A Companion to American Environmental History, history professors Susan Schrepfer and Douglas Sackman follow the development of American male and female identities as conditioned by their relationships with the natural environment. Beginning with the colonization of the New World and the Western Frontier, Schrepfer and Sackman showcase the link between “ecological imperialism and sexual subordination”—the basis for the notion of both women and the earth as passive and ideal for domination (119). As men conquered the land and native peoples—often sexually abusing local women, as did planter William Byrd II—women “br[ed] new colonists and nurture[d] [the] English constitutions in their children,” thereby becoming relegated to the domestic sphere and cementing their societal role as mothers (Schrepfer and Sackman 119, 118). In claiming this newly American land and its original female inhabitants, male colonists fostered a “righteous sense of ownership” that exploded with the scientific revolution (Schrepfer and Sackman 123). The male-gendered machine came to encapsulate post-colonial understandings of development, devaluing both women and nature as hindrances to societal progress and therefore appropriately managed by men (Schrepfer and Sackman 123). While expanding commerce and industrializing through the conquering of nature, men encouraged women “to use nature as a resource and a model with which to nurture children,” thus bolstering the idea of “Mother Earth” by advocating for the act of mothering with the earth (Schrepfer and Sackman 124). This patriarchal legacy of western development cemented the role of females as mothers, the earth as female, and all such parties as exploited by men.

Understanding the historical context in which western use of the term “Mother Earth” became rooted underscores how “[m]etaphors used to describe nature as mother […] reflect and reinforce social divisions […] [and] relations of dominance” between men, women, and nature (Schrepfer and Sackman 117). Indeed, because modern conceptions of mothers and the earth assume them as inherently associated, both parties have lost their agency—mothers exist only as representations of the earth, the earth exists only as a representation of mothers, and neither have value in their own right. As such, in the term “Mother Earth,” mothers and the earth become what ecofeminist Carol J. Adams describes as absent referents—subjects whose meaning “derive[…] from [their] application or reference to something else,” so that “[w]e fail to accord [them their] own existence[s]” (53). Because in western society neither mothers nor the earth can exist without the other, we cannot conceptualize their individual meanings, and thus must rely on their connectedness in order to understand them. Unfortunately, the historical context of western development has defined such connectedness based upon assumptions of mothers and nature as inherently passive, subservient, female-bodied, and inferior to men. The utterance of “Mother Earth” in the western world therefore invokes this exploitative historical framework so that “patriarchal values become institutionalized” in societal treatment of both mothers and nature (Adams 53). In order to understand mothers and the earth in their own rights, to afford them agency, and to combat their exploitation, we must separate the two parties from the oppressive context in which they became linked.

Disassociating mothers and the earth from their pairing in patriarchal society means understanding both “mothering” as a non-gendered term and caring for the earth and its inhabitants as a non-gendered role. As writer Julia Martin asserts, the West assumes that autonomy denotes progress, and thus discredits “caring and a relational style of identity” (189). This in turn contributes to “the devaluation of motherhood, and the requirement that boys, as they grow into men, distance themselves from the kindness and relatedness that feminine identity tends to imply” (Martin 189). Socialized into a framework of masculine superiority and dualism, young men in western society come to regard acts of care, compassion, and selflessness toward others as emasculating and appropriate only when enacted by women. As such, “femininity is ideologically constructed as everything that is not masculine and must be subjected to domination,” thus dooming the historically female earth to have its resources depleted, its atmosphere polluted, and its species endangered, all in the name of patriarchal development (Shiva 47).

However, the act of mothering and the relational care it implies is not inherently female. Indeed, such non-western worldviews as Indian cosmology conceptualize masculinity and femininity as fluid energies present in all forms of life, rather than qualities inscribed into the bodies of men, women, and the earth. Prominent environmental activist Vandana Shiva explains that Shakti—“the feminine and creative principle of the cosmos”—and Purusha—“the masculine principle” of destruction—intermingle to create a “primordial energy that is the substance of everything, pervading everything” (37). Shiva further classifies this energy as Prakriti, otherwise known as nature (37). In this analysis of being, all life contains aspects of masculinity, femininity, and the natural world, implying a symbiotic universe in which “there is no divide between man and nature, or between man and woman” (Shiva 39). Thus, when Shiva advocates for a widespread embrace of the “feminine principle” in dictating our treatment of the planet, she insists not upon reinforcing the problematic association between women and the earth, but upon understanding development and progress as non-violent, harmonious, and life-enhancing processes undertaken by individuals of all genders.

In welcoming the feminine principle, all humans become equal as mothers, caretakers of each other and of the planet. As mothers, we have a responsibility to nurture the earth, but also “to listen to what [it] may have to teach us,” remembering Martin’s call to parents (192). This symbiotic relationship between humans of all genders and the earth bestows agency upon all parties involved—it grants women equal weight in dictating what constitutes “development,” men freedom from the confines of a stereotypically masculinized identity, and the earth a say in how humans treat it. Instead of reinforcing the patriarchal, gendered term “Mother Earth,” we can reframe humankind’s relationship with nature in the life-giving, non-gendered term “Mothers of the Earth.”

Works Cited

Adams, Carol. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist Vegetarian Critical Theory. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010. Print.

Martin, Julia. “As Big as the World: Imagination, Kindness, and Our Little Boys.” Eco-Man: New Perspectives on Masculinity and Nature. Ed. Mark Allister. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004. 181-192. Print.

Schrepfer, Susan R. and Douglas Cazaux Sackman. “Chapter Seven: Gender.” A Companion to American Environmental History. Ed. Douglas C. Sackman. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 116-139. Print.

Shiva, Vandana. Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. London: Zed Books, 1989. Print.

Until next time, Ali.