The Cows of Bristol Harbourfront

This is a guest blog that originally appeared at Vegan Bristol.

cowspiracy_cowThe recent Bristol Post article titled ‘Two cows to mooove into Bristol Harbourfront’ provided a distinctly one sided account of animal farming, that appears to have been devised to reassure people over their continued exploitation of animals.  As such the article became an appeal to a false idea of the dairy industry that at best hid a great deal of the ‘truth’ behind animal farming.

The article itself suggests a number of issues to contend with; first and foremost, what exactly are cows doing at Bristol Harbourfront amongst ‘cafés, bars and boats’?  It certainly isn’t their natural habitat, and yet neither would the farm be their natural habitat either, for cows that have been specifically bred to be farmed by humans, there isn’t a natural habitat for these animals.  In fact the whole process of animal farming, and the subsequent consumption of milk taken from another species is quite unnatural in itself, as humans are weaned from human milk at a young age, and are not supposed to consume the milk of another species thereafter.  The milk mothers produce for their calves is specifically formulated for them to grow quickly, not for humans to consume as part of a ‘balanced’ diet.  This goes against the claim in the article that milk is a ‘very ‘normal’, everyday product.’ Of course the consumption of dairy has been normalised culturally, but that in itself doesn’t make it either natural, normal or necessary to consume.

The fact there is an artist at the event suggests there will be a degree of theatrics in the performance.  Yet there also doesn’t seem to be a genuine attempt to speak the truth about dairy farming, where people could make their own minds up, instead of dealing with another layer of distraction.  The intent here seems to be in reinforcing the bucolic image of farming peddled by the likes of McDonald’s and Waitrose, and found in the fables of children, in order to reassure and further encourage the unnecessary consumption of dairy products.  The article then goes on to say the artist will be ‘sleeping together in the pavilion with the cows, milking them, and feed[ing] them.’ It would seem to support an illusion the cows are being well looked after, and are also generally well looked after, until they are no longer useful and are then killed.

The animals themselves aren’t  genuinely considered in the ‘true cost of farming’, whilst it is reasonable to say the environmental costs of animal farming are high, as outlined in the Cowspiracy documentary, and a recent article in the Science journal that also made this point. But the answer isn’t reform, the answer resides in a fundamental change in our behaviour, where we take these issues seriously.  The article also mentions that ‘our planet is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals, with industrial agriculture being one of the largest contributors.’  This is true, and arguably animal farming is a big driver behind this event, so we need to take more radical action in regard to our environment, and make different choices in regard to consumption.  We also need to change the way we view nature and the way we live in this world, and veganism can play a significant role in that.  There is also a mention in the article of ‘Global Food System Inequalities’, and it will be interesting to see how issues of neo-liberalism will be addressed within the performance itself.

But let us wonder whether this is really part of a campaign by Nessie the performance artist.  Someone who is concerned about the dairy industry, and is willing to spend five days and many nights on the harbourfront milking two cows three times a day, possibly on her own time and at her own expense.  If it is, then I admire her dedication, though there are a number of fundamental issues with the claims she has made so far.  Despite this, I think it is possible to understand the struggles of the farming industry too, and there is no doubt it is difficult for people in a declining industry.  Sadly, the government and National Farmers Union will be of little help here, because they rarely show genuine concern toward people that are struggling, indeed they don’t really seem to care at all.  This of course is awful, but it is another truth the industry needs to face in these changing times.  The answer isn’t going to be in reform, the answer is in alternative ways of living.

In regard to dairy itself, there are many alternatives that are widely available, from oat milk, soya milk, coconut milk, hemp milk and almond milk.  The vegan yoghurts, cheeses and creams are also widely available and the homemade cashew cheeses are truly very good.  Whilst it may be difficult to think in terms of ‘giving up’ certain things, when we consider the environmental costs, and the costs to animals themselves, it becomes easier, necessary even, so next time you realise you are reaching for the dairy, think about picking up one of the alternatives instead.

 

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A few thoughts on the animal rights movement

It seems fair to say that Tom Regblogcloudpican has made a profound contribution to the modern animal rights movement, and in this television interview with William Friday, Regan offers a broad introduction to animal rights theory.   In more recent times it has been interesting to examine how this view of intrinsic rights is represented within the ‘animal rights movement’ itself, and it appears these views have become marginalised in favour of a utilitarian approach (generally regarded as harm reduction) where veganism has been presented as one option among many that could effectively address our responsibilities to non-human animals.  This approach has also tended to include a discussion of animal welfare in a way that is underpinned by collaborative efforts with the animal industry, rather than in regard to genuine caregiving or help for non-human animals (Lee Hall considers differences in welfare between ‘authentic welfare’ and ‘a term that deceives’).

One group in particular that has appeared in the ‘animal rights movement’ are the ‘effective altruists’; and a common claim of this group is that they wish to reduce animal suffering on as wide a scale as possible.  However, in practice this often results in violating the rights of one group or individual, in favour of others, in the name of effectiveness.  Decisions taken as to which violations are more acceptable than others often seem to be centred upon the position of human domination, and could be attributed to a continuation of our culturally indoctrinated speciesism.  In this way we could say their approach is inherently speciesist, because they choose not to argue from a position of the individual rights of others, but from their own position of domination.

One of the central tenets of veganism[1] itself is that it opposes animal exploitation, therefore it fits neatly into a *justice for all* approach where there is an anti-speciesist foundation, this is because we need to incorporate anti-speciesism in a similar way to how we need to incorporate anti-racism and anti-sexism into our justice approach.  Adopting this perspective legitimises animal rights as part of an intersectional justice movement.  It would seem the minimum we need to do here for non-human animals is that we refrain from either reinforcing or offering reassurance to people in their exploitation of animals, whilst presenting veganism as the basis of our anti-speciesist approach.

In a recent book Casey Taft outlined how we can advocate effectively for animals in ways that are consistent with veganism and animal rights; and Bob Torres wrote about how we also need to be critical of the structure of ‘animal rights’ organisations because their desire for mainstream success progressed in a way that perpetuated mainstream oppressions (for instance racism and sexism).  Indeed, the quest for positive news stories facilitated a false narrative that effectively limited, ignored or dismissed criticism from justice advocates (often under the guise of being ‘divisive’).  This issue has spilled over into ‘animal rights’ conferences that have frequently been organised to cater to a specific agenda rather than as an opportunity to present a broad number of perspectives *from* an animal rights position.

Since the inception of the modern animal rights movement it appears as if core values have become marginalised, as it is probably fair to say the initial intention was to help people bring animal rights and vegan ideas into practice through support and education (Donald Watson considered this ‘ripening’), engaging in awareness raising activities and to help non-human animals where possible.  The issue of marginalisation has appeared two-fold, on the one hand there is the professionalisation of the movement which has acted to diminish grassroots advocacy, and on the other, the ‘abolitionist’ bogeymen (not without foundation) that have allowed people to conveniently sidestep questions from a rights perspective that legitimately challenged their position.

As the animal rights movement presently stands it could justifiably be described as confusing, and this has caused ‘conflict’ within the movement itself. The animal rights movement has ceded space and hasn’t in turn compensated by either creating new spaces or maintaining space for the expression of rights based ideas.  Where utilitarians have attempted to mitigate conflict they have generally privileged their own approach (hypocritical) and marginalised animal rights views (hypercritical).  As part of this process there have also been attempts to silence animal rights advocates through accusations of ‘policing’, ‘shaming’, and by the construction of false ideas that suggest we are ‘all heading in the same direction’, a misnomer designed to present all ideas as similar enough to be compatible, or that it is our responsibility to back down from a rights based position because it suits the ‘mainstream’ movement for that to happen.  This dominant position within the animal rights movement seems to overlook the necessity for a certain degree of ‘conflict’/ debate / discussion / reflexivity that helps to maintain a functional movement.

As a result it appears useful to refer to the ‘animal movement’ instead of the ‘animal rights movement’ when encompassing the various groups involved, whilst being mindful of different descriptors such as reducetarian and flexitarian to explain utilitarian preferences, and how these approaches have necessarily diminished vegan advocacy.  We ought to allow space for people to discuss animal rights ideas without disruptive accusations such as ‘sounding like an abolitionist’ or not being ‘effective, pragmatic or strategic’ because activists are simply unwilling to reassure people over their animal consumption.  The actual animal rights movement itself has stagnated under the weight of ‘effective’ utilitarian ideas, which when closely examined have little in common with either veganism or animal rights.

 

References

From Animals to Anarchism, by Kevin Watkinson and Donal O’Driscoll (2014)

Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights, by Bob Torres (2007)

Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective, by Casey Taft (2016)

On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century, by Lee Hall (2016)

 

[1] The Vegan Society definition* and not a dietary misrepresentation some people seem to prefer.

*“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

 

Thanks to the people who have contributed to this piece in a variety of ways.

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A few thoughts on elitism in the animal movement

collapse-diceOne of the central tenets of veganism is how the vegan lifestyle should be generally accessible to all.  This is to say that emphasising animal rights ought to lead to a way of social organisation that includes foundational ideas of justice, solidarity and equality that would allow for that to happen.

The present animal movement contains many groups with approaches that rely on privilege and inequality as a strategy to alter treatment for non-human animals in such a way that animals may suffer less.  This approach neglects the vast system that is responsible for subjugating non-human animals whilst it maintains the supply and demand for exploited bodies, and this is one consequence of an approach that has prioritised an appeal to the elite in society.  So instead of a focus on veganism and animal rights where people are supported to make changes, with those ‘barriers’ to a vegan lifestyle objectively examined, their message instead reflects a campaigning style that favours an appeal to those who have accumulated and maintained a vast amount of power and influence at the expense of human / non-human animals and the environment.

This conventional campaigning approach from mainstream groups has allowed the fundamental issue of power to remain largely unchallenged.  Indeed, it purposefully neglects to examine the issue in order to encourage and reassure those potential ‘allies’, whilst concurrently promoting such methods of advocacy in the grassroots movement, commonly articulated around the dichotomy of ‘professionals’ (bearers of ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’) and the ‘civilians’ (those that have not thought through their approach to advocacy).

This also presents a reflection of the animal movement itself, where the top layers of the movement accumulate and recycle money within their own organisations rather than seeking to distribute wealth amongst advocates, this appears to be viewed as money they have earned, rather than money to be used to end the system of animal exploitation.  Another common theme is how they share their own work or that of their close associates, intentionally overlooking that which other people do, unless there is a way to gain from sharing that work.

This is the case for the vast majority of larger groups (often termed ‘non profits’), and it is indicative of how intrinsic rights for animals have been de-centred from mainstream activism, whilst those same animals are concurrently used for promotional campaigns.  These situations notoriously focus ‘help’ for animals in ways that don’t emphasise attitudinal or behavioural change in a way that would reflect a vegan philosophy and lifestyle, whilst appropriating the effects of grassroots vegan activism as an inherent part of their own success (increased supply of vegan products for example).

It is worth emphasising that a justice approach brings animals into the community, it brings environmental and human consideration into our ideas.  Where we fail to connect these issues we do a vast disservice to the interconnection of justice movements.  Whilst we create our own spaces that can include a broad critical analysis of society and injustice, we ought to also reflect on the many groups that stand on the backs of animals in the name of ‘effectiveness’, their power, money and influence working counter to our own activism.  Whilst they have claimed we are all in this together heading in the same direction, we should be clear their framing of non-human animals does not reflect a justice approach, and instead reveals a patronising ‘compassion’ associated with the elite.

So with this in mind we can instead seek out alternatives to the (speciesist) corporate approach that diminishes ‘rights’ based campaigning.  We can focus our efforts on nourishing the grassroots rather than transferring resources to the higher echelons of the animal movement.  We can seek out excellent work that reflects a rights based approach created by individuals and grassroots groups, where we encourage people to learn about veganism and animal rights as part of a social justice approach that is an inherent part of the broader social justice movement.  In so doing we can utilise these ideas to inform our activism.

 

Further reading / resources:

From Animals to Anarchism.  By Kevin Watkinson and Donal O’Driscoll.

Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights.  By Bob Torres.

Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective.  By Casey Taft.

Protest, Inc.  By Peter Dauvergne and Genevieve LeBaron.

‘Veganish’ or vegan? An Animal Rights Perspective.  By Kevin Watkinson.

 

Some groups / organisations / pages to look for:

Black Vegans Rock

Chilis on Wheels

Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary Ireland

Food Empowerment Project

Free From Harm

Project Intersect

Resistance Ecology

Sistah Vegan Project

Striving with Systems

TAVS – The Advocacy of Veganism Society

The Philosophy of Animal Rights by Dr. Tom Regan

Triangle Chance for All

Vegan Feminist Network

Vegan Information Project

Vegankit.com

Vegan Publishers (and the blog)

VINE Sanctuary

 

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Tolerance, ‘division’ and appropriation: Strategy for a mainstream monoculture

corn-fieldIn some ways it might be claimed there are two prevailing views within the animal movement; one suggests that we can achieve our aims within the system (mainstream) and the other which suggests that a ‘justice for all’ approach is not compatible with the present economic / political system. So people could move in different directions depending on how they view that situation. However, when overarching discussions have taken place regarding tolerance and cohesion within the animal movement, they have generally been weighted toward the mainstream (status quo). In this regard, i think there needs to be a greater recognition of different perspectives within the movement. Whilst people who take the justice perspective would probably accept this, people that do not, often have difficulty even acknowledging that different perspectives exist, for them it appears that to do so would undermine their own approach. I expect a similar situation presents itself across many other justice movements as well. So it is plausible to consider that ‘unified and focused’ efforts need to take place across justice ‘borders’ rather than within the animal movement itself. Where the ‘justice for all’ approach gathers momentum there will inevitably be increased tension with mainstream groups that fail to question the economic and political system, or even how they are structured as a reflection of that system.

When we hear calls from the mainstream movement that we are all in this together heading in the same direction, we know this essentially reflects a simplistic perspective that tends to serve the mainstream agenda by erasing alternative approaches. Can we agree that even within these differences non-human animals can suffer less with the ‘pragmatic’ or ‘effective’ approach? I think we can, yet the purpose of the rights position is to represent ‘rights’ in a non vegan world, it is not designed to support exploitative systems. In this regard there is a separate utilitarian approach of ‘animal liberation’, and a rights based approach that centres on justice for non-human animals whilst including a full definition of ‘veganism’ as both a philosophy and lifestyle. When we centre non-human animals we are compelled to find those ‘effective strategies’ that allow us to communicate these ideas in accessible ways, this includes an emphasis on personal responsibility within a social context, where the complexity of society (in regard to inequality, discrimination and oppression) can be explored and addressed rather than sidelined or dismissed.

So, in order for there to be ‘tolerance’ (acknowledging there will always be tension where organisations are promoting strategies that exploit non-human animals) we need to overcome the reductive notion of rights based perspectives being inherently ‘divisive’. Where the ‘mainstream’ movement can acknowledge there are different perspectives, and make an increased effort to understand those approaches, whilst encouraging analysis of their own approach (especially in regard to social context / dismantling systems of oppression). In this way we could more readily move toward understanding differences in a more reflective and co-operative manner, where we may find our relations with each other improving, as understanding is emphasised and encouraged.

Resources:

From animals to anarchism

In relation to veganism

Protest Inc.‘ by Peter Dauvergne and Genevieve LeBaron

Vegan or veganish?

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In relation to veganism

distortionVegans tend to have one thing in common, and that is the definition of veganism:

“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

When discussing veganism it helps to base our discussion around an idea, and this definition suits us well. However, there are also people that have chosen to adopt their own idea of veganism without recourse to the definition, which could be something that either ‘mainstream’ media or ‘movement leaders’ have told them it should be. This has an unfortunate consequence because problematic issues can be marginalised instead of considered, where the issue of finding shared meaning and commonality is easily dismissed, because although our experiences differ we have missed a shared reference point.

Some ‘movement leaders’ are convinced they can cause you to doubt almost everything, essentially an approach full of maybes, possibilities and potentialities with little room for either clarity or learning. In this way they have hoped to do our thinking for us, and where we have allowed that to happen we have been rewarded with a mainstream ‘animal rights’ movement that routinely fails to advocate animal rights in a meaningful way. It is a situation that can be recognised where non-human animals are defined as meat, and objects to consume. Such as within reducetarianism, a movement that has garnered a great deal of support from highly placed ‘animal rights’ advocates.

The root of the problem appears to be a lack of discussion around rights and veganism, where some of those discussions have taken place, it has not been uncommon to have them undermined with claims of shaming, divisiveness, policing and purity. This is no way to enter into a meaningful discussion. If we believe animals are deserving of respect then we ought to begin by behaving and speaking in a way that demonstrates that we do. That said, after coming from a deeply speciesist society it will take time to understand how deeply entrenched these ideas truly are. Even when we are ‘vegan’ there is still a great deal to learn about veganism. Whereas some people have chosen to undermine the meaning of veganism to make things appear ‘easier’ and more acceptable, we neglect that we can also progress to better understand issues of discrimination and oppression, and how they interact with each other to cause harm.

It seems apparent that a commitment to the philosophy of veganism is the central tenet of veganism, and that could be seen as the ‘test’ of veganism. It could be said that many movement leaders do not have a particular commitment to this idea, where instead they have a commitment (though not all do) to the vegan lifestyle. A lifestyle which is equally at home in the ideology of flexitarianism, reducetarianism or vegetarianism.  Those are ideas to which they appear to have a more reasonable claim, where they avoid the contentious stretch and distortion of the meaning inherent to veganism and animal rights, a situation that has often had the consequence of rendering those terms almost meaningless.

 

PictureBeyond Distortion | by Monika Krupicka

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Q and A with Saryta Rodriguez

sarytaFollowing on from a recent ARZone podcast i was really fortunate to be able to ask Saryta Rodriguez some questions about her book ‘Until Every Animal is Free’

I hope you find the following questions and answers as interesting as i found the book.

 

 

In the book you talk about the question of why rather than how we use animals.   That seems to be an important perspective in regard to animal rights.  When we introduce this perspective do you think it helps to shift the burden of proof in society from people having to justify veganism toward people attempting to justify nonveganism?  

You touch it with a needle! That is precisely what is needed— a revolution of sociocultural norms. Because humans have consumed meat for hundreds of years, worn animal hides for hundreds of years, etc., these practices are taken for granted as, if not good, at least acceptable.

Is genocide acceptable? Is environmental devastation acceptable? Is apartheid acceptable? Those things have been going on for a while, too.

On page 67 there is a quote from Joan Dunayer that says observing in silence is to be complicit with the system of exploitationIn regard to this issue, how can we empower people to advocate for non-human animals, and to what extent do some of the large ‘animal rights’ organisations support and encourage people to take a vegan approach to animal advocacy? 

Well, I think the best way to convince folks to speak up for nonhumans is to lead by example— to do it yourself, and to talk about doing it and why you do it. It’s also important to emphasize that there’s more than one way to “speak up” for nonhumans— it does not have to involve speaking. A lot of vegans I’ve met are somewhat introverted and don’t necessarily love getting up in front of tons of people to speak. While this is an important part of raising awareness and our movement needs some people to do it, there are also myriad other ways to contribute. You can write and help organize conferences and fundraisers, as I do. You can give vegan cooking classes and have mentorship programs in place to help people transition into veganism, as Brenda Sanders is doing in Baltimore with her Vegan Living program. You can write songs about animal liberation, as myriad artists have done and are doing, such as Jah Sun, Historias de Andén, and Illy Rap— and help promote such artists, as Kevin Tillman does via the Vegan Hip Hop Movement.

Unfortunately I can’t say much with respect to how nonhuman advocacy organizations are encouraging people to take a vegan approach to advocacy because, frankly, many of them aren’t doing so. Increasingly, mainstream nonhuman advocacy groups are encouraging people to go vegetarian, or reducetarian, meaning they just “cut back” on their meat intake. Vegetarianism violates the rights of cows and other lactating creatures, as well as their orphaned children, while reducetarianism takes the nonhuman animal’s perspective entirely out of the equation and focuses on just one issue: meat consumption. It doesn’t even ask us to stop eating meat (while continuing to consume other nonhuman-derived substances), but only to reduce the amount of flesh we consume. And both of these approaches are only about eating— they do nothing for the nonhumans kept in captivity in zoos, aquariums and circuses, or for those whose bodies are turned into handbags, shoes and other products.

Three groups I can think of here in the US who focus on spreading a squarely, unequivocally vegan message are Sistah Vegan Project, Direct Action Everywhere and the Abolitionist Vegan Society. In Australia, there’s also Animal Liberation Victoria. DxE and ALV focus on protests and open rescue and investigation as means of encouraging activists to speak up, while Sistah Vegan Project and the Abolitionist Vegan Society focus on outreach and educational efforts— spreading the facts as far and wide as possible. Sistah Vegan Project is also particularly committed to ensuring that the vegan message is spread while being mindful of the cultural histories of various marginalized groups— something many mainstream nonhuman advocacy groups neglect to consider.

On that note, I’ve also recently become involved with Millahcayotl, a food justice organization based in San Francisco, and we are hosting our first annual People’s Harvest Forum in December. While this isn’t an “animal rights” group per se, Millahcayotl is committed to solving problems related to food sovereignty in ways that are free of animal exploitation— human and nonhuman alike. So I think groups like ours are very important in addressing multiple issues at once: justice for nonhumans, justice for farm workers, justice for those living in food swamps, and so forth.

(A food swamp, by the way, is an alternative for “food desert,” as the latter implies that a region has no food. Food swamps, at least here in the US, are far more common— places where nutritious food such as fresh produce is scarce, while corner stores selling chips, candy and soda abound. So there is technically food, but not of a quality that can truly sustain people. Such food is slowly destroying the health of the many low-income, mostly of-color residents of these neighborhoods.)

I thought the issue of active listening (page 71) is really important, and also the section that followed around maintaining a safe space for people to communicate.  Can you talk about the ways we can start to bring critical thinking to issues where people have developed a personal attachment to certain ideas?  

Well, that’s a pretty loaded question, but I can sure try! One definition or explanation of veganism that really resonates with me is the one Will Tuttle offers in his essay in Circles of Compassion. There’s a line in which he states that we “come to see veganism as boundless inclusiveness.” I really hope I get to meet Will one day so that I can give him a massive hug for that line. It’s important to remember when dealing with people whose opinions differ from ours that they, too, are deserving of compassion— even if they aren’t (yet) exhibiting it to others. This is not only in keeping with my “lead by example” mantra but also, I think, is a more effective form of advocacy than judgment or exclusion: insulting nonvegans, refusing to spend time with them, and so forth. If we hope to change minds, we must engage habitually— and respectfully— with the minds we seek to change, and withhold our judgments as best we can. It helps to also remind ourselves that we weren’t “born vegan”— we, too, engaged in nonhuman exploitation for years before we went vegan, so we should address others the way we would want our former selves to have been addressed.

That said, I think just studying up on some of the main points nonvegans bring up time and time again and being prepared to refute them is valuable. First and foremost, veganism is a social justice issue, by which I mean that the most important part of the dialogue is to uphold the victim’s perspective. This trumps all other arguments, as whether or not we “need” meat or “need” to test on nonhumans does not alter the fact that exploiting and murdering them is fundamentally unjust. However, there are certain staple arguments nonvegans love to use, such as the “Circle of Life” argument (Lions eat other animals; therefore, so can I!), the “health” argument (Protein, though!), and the “science” argument (We need to test on nonhumans to cure diseases and develop treatments that can save hundreds, THOUSANDS of humans from horrible deaths!). Having logical responses to these at the ready, such as “You are not a lion; humans are actually herbivorous in design,” “There’s plenty of protein in certain plants, and some of the Earth’s most powerful creatures are vegan,” and “We now have myriad alternatives to nonhuman animal testing that are not only just, but yield more accurate results” is useful for reaching those folks who unfortunately just don’t care about justice for nonhumans— those who believe firmly in the Myth of Human Supremacy and are motivated solely by the interests of our species.

We should also be honest when we don’t have an answer to something, and encourage others to research independently, including by recommending good sources when we have them. I think a lot of folks are turned off when vegans treat veganism as a silver bullet, saying things like “Everyone going vegan would end world hunger.” This isn’t necessarily true, because the issue with world hunger is not that there isn’t enough food to go around— it’s about how that food is being distributed. So these nuances need to be clarified in order to maintain our credibility, to avoid folks thinking, “Oh, you’ll just say anything to get folks to go vegan; you don’t even know the facts.”

Finally, we absolutely must be culturally sensitive and intersectional in our activism. We must distinguish, for example, between a motion that brings justice to nonhuman animals— such as the ban on using nonhumans in circuses which exists in many countries around the world— and legislation that discriminates against a marginalized community under the guise of nonhuman liberation, such as banning charreadas (Mexican rodeos) in Arizona while allowing American rodeos to continue. We must avoid using catch-all phrases like “Going vegan is EASY!”, which erase the lived experiences of people living in deserts, tundra, mental institutions, prisons and a host of other places where it is decidedly not easy.

Single-issue campaigns (Page 108) are arguably quite controversial when we don’t succeed in drawing attention to the bigger picture of animal exploitation (and a subsequent resolution).  Is it perhaps better to draw attention to these issues through protest rather than seeking ‘bans’ or changes in the law, and so the focus could be on seeking a broader shift in thinking.  Where we don’t manage to do this are we not complicit in a class-based speciesism(For example, the elephants at Ringling bros. on page 109) I am interested to know whether this might maintain a species hierarchy?  And if it does, how much of an issue might this be?  (The SeaWorld orca campaign would be another example of this).

I’m hesitant to say that one of these approaches is “better” than the other. Instead, I would argue that both are necessary, and that neither would succeed without the existence of the other. Legislation that protects nonhumans wouldn’t pass unless there was a demonstrated public interest in their passage, which is what happens when people protest, sign petitions and so forth. Likewise, protests would ultimately yield little change if they failed to attract the attention of those who have the power to put legislation on the table.

Ultimately, the most important aspects of veganism to me— of creating a vegan society, a vegan world— is shifting our perception of nonhuman animals and, as I said before, revolutionizing the sociocultural norms we have adopted.

I do worry that single-issue campaigns reinforce a speciesist hierarchy, as I wrote in this article some years ago as a member of PALS (Phoenix Animal Liberation Squad), but that doesn’t mean that no good can come from them. It doesn’t surprise me that the Nonhuman Rights Project chose as its first species to try to represent in court under habeas corpus, the chimpanzee. Most people already feel compassion for chimpanzees because they are the most “like us.” So that is probably the most likely species to ever get legal representation, but once they get it, I don’t see why NhRP should stop there— and I don’t think they intend to do so. They’re just trying to get their foot in the door, so to speak.

For these reasons, the shift in perspective is necessary to see animal liberation realized. We need to get folks thinking about cows, pigs and chickens the way they already think about chimpanzees and dogs— and then, I’d argue, go even beyond that, as even the most avid dog-lovers often assume that humans are more important or “special” than dogs. I don’t personally participate in single-issue campaigns, but for those who do, I think what’s most important is that they consistently frame their campaign within the larger scope of animal liberation. If they only ever speak of one species, then I take issue with that. The only reason I mentioned the circus campaign in my book was because of what Mayor Quan said that night at the city council meeting— that she looks forward to the day when all nonhumans will be liberated from the circus industry. Without that, it would have just been a meeting about elephants— not about nonhuman liberation.

I really liked the way the formation of The Vegan Society featured in the book (page 174), the history of (contemporary) veganism often seems to be neglected in the mainstream movement.  How important is it that we are informed by the origin and development of The Vegan Society when trying to understand the philosophy and practices of veganism?  

I actually think it is hugely important, as increasingly folks seem to conflate veganism with a plant-based diet. Understanding the history and the original definition reinforces the notion that it is so much more than that: it is a philosophy deeply rooted in nonviolence and justice for all sentient beings.

I was really interested by the Ronald Duchin quote (1).  I’ve heard claims that people critical of collaborative approaches with industry are actually harming the interests of non-human animals, because welfare campaigns are identified by industry as most problematic to them.  In the quote Duchin suggests otherwise; why do you think some vegans continue to believe the animal industrial complex has an interest in speaking the truth, beyond that which serves their own interest?  Is it not the power behind their message in terms of finance and media that maintains their grip on public consciousness; that it is ok to exploit non-human animals?  Why would the animal advocacy movement want to get on board with that message?

I ask myself these questions every day. It’s really disappointing. Our movement could be so much stronger if our messaging were more cohesive, but when you have efforts like humanewashing (perpetuating the Humane Myth: That there is a “right” way to kill or exploit someone), pescatarianism, vegetarianism, and reducetarianism all conspiring against veganism, the nonhuman animals lose. Veganism is the only nonhuman advocacy option that promises to protect nonhumans to the utmost. Veganic farming in particular helps to protect the nonhumans often harmed by the production of vegan foods (for instance, “vegan” crops grown using fertilizer that results from the waste of “farmed”/enslaved nonhumans). Unfortunately, I always come back to the conclusion that people support these efforts because deep down, they just don’t want to change their lives that much, and these efforts enable people to alleviate some of the guilt they carry upon understanding the harm they are causing, without having to give up very much. It’s easier— for them. This is why the victim’s perspective is so essential; it is the only argument that successfully and immediately evaporates all of these smoke screens.

We should not be collaborating with animal abusers, whether their victims are homo sapiens or bovine or porcine or aquatic or avian. These industries don’t need to be reformed— they need to be eradicated.

 


Two further articles from Saryta Rodriguez:

Comparing Social Justice Movements

Exploding the myth of the Moral Underclass


 

(1)  ‘In 1991, Ronald Duchin, an Army War College graduate and former special assistant to the Secretary of Defense, gave a speech to the Cattlemen’s Association in which he outlined three critical steps in eliminating the threat animal liberationists pose to their business:

1. Isolate the radicals.

2. Cultivate the idealists and educate them into becoming realists.

3. Co-opt the opportunists into agreeing with the industry.’

 

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‘Veganish’ or vegan? An animal rights perspective

ConsequencesThere is continual discussion around the nature of effectiveness within the vegan movement, and it is important to reflect[i] on our activity so that we can increase our effectiveness in different situations. However, over time it has become increasingly apparent that different ideas exist in regard to veganism, so in this article animal rights theory and the vegan ethos are aligned to explore some of those issues relating to the idea of ‘veganish’.

In order to begin to look at this issue, it is useful to present a couple of workable definitions to draw attention to the complementary aspects of animal rights theory and the vegan philosophy. The following is the generally accepted definition of veganism from The Vegan Society:

“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.

The following description is the one used when referring to animal rights:

This is the recognition that non-human animals are sentient beings that are subjects of a life, and have an interest in how they live their life. It is this interest that forms those intrinsic rights that we discuss in regard to animal rights, and that includes freedom from suffering at the hands of human beings. These interests are recognised when we consider that we do not need to use non-human animals, and where we seek alternatives to exploiting them. In this way we begin to respect the right to liberty of all non-human animals, a right we have taken away from them.

So given these two definitions, I think it is possible to draw the following distinctions with the ‘veganish’ approach to animal advocacy:

Vegan Vs. Veganish
Animal Rights Animal Liberation (Singer’s anthropocentric utilitarianism)
Social change Mainstreamness
A position overtly opposed to exploitation, discrimination, and oppression An approach that can be consistent with exploitation, discrimination, and oppression
Reduce harm Reduce harm
Ripened by human determination[ii] (Donald Watson) Softened by a reduction in expectations
Doing the best we can Doing less than we can
Emphasis on community Individualistic
Expansive Reductive

The majority of vegans attempt to resolve those issues that challenge veganism from within the framework of veganism itself, rather than attempting to re-define veganism (lowering the bar) to advocate an approach that incorporates the exploitation of animals. Where we lower the bar, we accept a different criterion for our definition of veganism; and there are already ample definitions (if we require them) for different approaches toward reduction that can reflect our beliefs or consumption patterns. For instance, there is flexitarianism or reducetarianism to consider, and we could adopt those labels if we choose to do so, because they also include harm reduction toward non-human animals. In a slightly different way the arrival of ‘veganish’ has presented a challenge to the dietary implications of veganism, and consequently the overarching vegan philosophy.

The question then needs to be asked as to why there is such an interest in ‘veganish’. If people choose not to be vegan for whatever reasons, has it meant they instead consume non-human animals ‘all of the time’ or does it just mean they are not vegan? In terms of veganism it doesn’t really matter if you consume animals five times a year or five hundred; somebody who has taken veganism to heart is unlikely to want to cheat, or find loopholes where they can sometimes consume animal products. Whilst it is clearly less bad to consume five than five hundred animals, and few people would argue otherwise, it is better still to not exploit any animals as far as is possible and practicable. For the animals that are not being exploited it certainly is better.

It has also sometimes been suggested that vegans can cause people that reduce the number of animals they exploit to instead consume more animals, this is because of a reaction to the implied *demand* to adopt a vegan diet. However, it may be more reasonable to say that people continue to not be vegan, and those ‘principles’ that led to a marked reduction in animal consumption would likely remain, if indeed it were a principled decision and not merely social drift. It is difficult to identify that veganism itself would provide such an obstacle to an effective approach to animal liberation, instead the fact people merely consume animal products because they consume animal products is the central issue, and to challenge that assumption is integral to our discussion. In a speciesist society we cannot expect people to merely gravitate toward an animal rights approach, something more is required. So we should feel empowered to discuss the vegan philosophy and the consequent lifestyle even though it is something that people do not necessarily wish to hear. It can be difficult to speak about the issue of animal rights and veganism, and it can also be difficult to listen and engage with that discussion, yet we can learn and improve on how we do that, so that we can move forward advocating veganism more effectively.

We also need to be mindful that there are issues to critique in regard to veganism; where philosophy meets practise, and in particular how veganism relates to neo-colonialism / privilege / entitlement and ‘ease’. When we take a veganish perspective, we first neutralise the situation of non-human animals, and second we erase the experiences of people in regard to veganism. It becomes ok to consume animals rather than to challenge those systems that resist animal liberation. Making compassion easier allows for us to commit acts of violence with the aim to make our life and the lives of other humans easier; based upon the assumption that we can further reduce harm to non-human animals on a societal level. Yet whilst vegans are working hard to make change more appealing and ‘easier’, we are not interested in changing our message to suit the mainstream. A message of justice is not one that fits easily into a mainstream constructed upon injustice, and our failure to examine the way veganism has gradually been undermined has arguably caused the original intent[iii] of veganism to become diminished.

So we need to look at how we can be effective within the definition of veganism and rights, rather than looking to promote those ideas (such as incrementalism) from outside that definition. In a social context we can identify how speciesism is constantly being reinforced, so we know how important it is to offer those alternative ideas that allow people to view the issues differently. Almost everyone believes in harm reduction in one form or another, people see this as a good thing, so we need to create a message that stands out from those others that incorporate animal exploitation in various ways.

Veganism not only inherently challenges speciesism in our society, but also challenges people who are vegan whilst reinforcing aspects of speciesism. So there is a degree of antagonism when advocating behaviours that are not consistent with veganism. It is also worth pointing out that no one seems to say that veganism cannot be promoted in an effective way, yet there is some disagreement over the best way to advocate for animal liberation, and that principally depends upon perspective. From a rights perspective there will always be issues with non-vegan approaches that are presented within the rights movement. To counter this issue we need to look at the definitions of veganism and rights to see how we can be effective and consistent, where we recognise that those terms are not mutually exclusive. We can direct our energy into working out how to promote veganism well, rather than looking at ways to change or ‘ish’ those definitions, so we can continue to advocate that different way of living in society. There are many other definitions that can describe different approaches, and they can be adopted if people wish to do so. Though we should bear in mind that the opportunity cost is not to be more ‘effective’, the opportunity cost is to de-centre the rights of animals from our campaigns.

It is possible for people to adopt a vegan lifestyle and locate themselves within the definition of flexitarianism, or adopt a vegan lifestyle and be a reducetarian or vegetarian. So it could be a better approach for some vegans to adopt those labels if they want to promote aspects of exploitation through welfare and reduction. Where people have thought that veganism is ‘too much’ it doesn’t mean to say they don’t continue to do the best they can in their lives, but when vegans say veganism is ‘extreme’ it reaffirms those ideas of difficulty, rather than addressing those issues and advocating veganism in a meaningful way. It may well turn out that people are close to that vegan lifestyle or not, yet it is the philosophy which is the central pillar of veganism; and there isn’t a discernible grey area when we adopt that philosophy.

The Vegan Society was founded with the intention to promote veganism and to make the vegan lifestyle easier. Over the past ten years in the UK we can see how the vegan lifestyle has become ‘easier’, especially for those people living with privilege. That work is clearly already happening as a consequence of people choosing to be vegan, accompanied by those people that are consuming more vegan products, which is a consequence of a mainstream message to reduce the consumption of non-human animals. The vegan message does not hinder that process, instead it helps people to understand the important issues of rights and justice, and we need more advocates to adopt this perspective in order to support people to contemplate and understand these issues.

 

Further reading:

From animals to anarchism by Kevin Watkinson and Donal O’Driscoll.

Occam’s Razor and Veganism by Benny Malone.

The Philosophy of Animal Rights by Tom Regan.

Veganism Defined by Leslie Cross.

 


[i] It could be argued that reflexivity is a natural, normal and necessary part of a social movement.

[ii] Donald Watson wrote about the concept of ripening in The Vegan News, November 1944.  ‘A common criticism is that the time is not yet ripe for our reform. Can time ever be ripe for any reform unless it is ripened by human determination? […] There is an obvious danger in leaving the fulfilment of our ideals to posterity, for posterity may not have our ideals. Evolution can be retrogressive as well as progressive, indeed there seems always to be a strong gravitation the wrong way unless existing standards are guarded and new visions honoured. For this reason we have formed our Group, the first of its kind, we believe, in this or any other country.’

[iii] See for instance. Cole, M. (2014) ‘‘The Greatest Cause on Earth’: The historical formation of veganism as an ethical practice’, in N. Taylor & R. Twine (eds) The Rise of Critical Animal Studies – From the Margins to the Centre, Routledge.

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The tale of the stolen piglet

pig1_1204022cRecently the Bristol Post reported on a story about a stolen piglet from a local farm. This story is quite remarkable in the way it has been presented, and there are several questions that arise. Firstly, there are questions about how the piglet is viewed as property, and to whom the piglet belongs. Secondly there are issues with how the farm justifies their use of non-human animals.

The issue of treating animals as property has generated a fair amount of discussion in the animal rights community. The basic concept is that non-human animals are sentient beings who are subjects of a life, therefore they have an interest in how they live their life. It is this interest that forms those intrinsic rights that we discuss in regard to animal rights, and they include not having to suffer necessarily at the hands of humanity. These interests are recognised where we consider that we do not need to use non-human animals, and where we seek alternatives to using them, and in this way we begin to respect the right to liberty of all living beings, a right we have taken away from them.

The issue with animals being property is that they are viewed as ‘things’, vessels to which we can exploit for our financial gain or entertainment. Their lives are considered as a means to an end, rather than as having any actual value to them. So when we move onto the story itself, we find a very sweet piglet has been taken from Windmill Farm; from a different perspective this could translate as the stolen pig was taken from Windmill Farm, after all it does not matter so much to the piglet who is doing the stealing.  When we consider the piglet as property, we merely think of a potential preference for being around other pigs, and living in relative comfort within the confines of their own pen. So whilst the ‘theft’ itself could cause harm from being removed from familiar surrounds, there won’t necessarily be a change in circumstances for the piglet, at the end of the day their life will be stolen, and their body consumed, both the farm and ‘thief’ are seeking the same end for the piglet.

To justify this situation animal farmers often attempt to use reassuring language to assuage the doubts and concerns of consumers. In this particular story we are told the pigs are cared for, and they get to live with their brothers and sisters, they acknowledge the piglet would likely have been scared from being removed from their ‘home’, though the Bristol Post suggests luck is about to run out as the piglet is due to be slaughtered in November. Quite how the pig has been lucky up to now is not clear, unless we are comparing this with the ‘bad luck’ of ending up on a factory farm. At least in this case the farm is being honest that the piglets will end up as meat and are not just a curiosity for paying visitors. However, the story itself ends with the humane myth, where humane slaughter is lauded as a ‘good’ thing (of course there are better and worse ways to kill) yet a life has been stolen to consume flesh that we do not need to eat, and it is difficult to identify a basis for that in human kindness.

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Kerry McCarthy: a vegan at the centre of the opposition

bth_veganblume_kleinKerry McCarthy is the Labour MP for Bristol East and has held that position for almost a decade. Ms McCarthy is credited with being the first vegan MP, and is currently an ambassador for The Vegan Society and has given talks at many of the Vegfest events around the country.

Following Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory for the Labour Party, he revealed his shadow cabinet and announced Kerry McCarthy as the new Shadow Environment Minister.  This immediately set a collision course with the Animal Industrial Complex (1), which went up in arms over the appointment of someone who is vegan; that is someone adhering to a philosophy and lifestyle which represents to them the antithesis of the exploitation, suffering and brutality they espouse. So it is no surprise they remain a little upset. The Animal Industrial Complex (AIC) could also be viewed as primarily conservative, given the financial privilege they obtain from exploiting non-human animals, and the desire they have for maintaining that system, it is unlikely they would prefer a Labour government under many given circumstances.

The result is that Labour doesn’t need to appease the farming industry, but instead can provide an alternative to the animal and environmental destruction at the heart of that industry. So perhaps he sees McCarthy as the possible solution, and that would suggest some fairly radical thinking. When farmers do not need to be appeased, we can begin to consider what sort of farming practices we require in England, and it might be the case that many of the large landowners in particular, will finally be considered the liability they truly are.

The problem here though, is that on one side there is the Animal Industrial Complex and on the other, the animal rights movement. Whilst the contemporary animal rights movement is no stranger to equivocation, with seemingly endless appeals to welfare (within the industry) and ‘mainstreamness’, there are still others that would counter significant equivocation from Kerry McCarthy with criticism, and in turn they would no doubt be criticised for speaking of the principles within veganism and animal rights. Yet it may turn out that the most vociferous are the farmers that would  deride a vegan for equivocation, highlighting that Ms McCarthy has hidden away those vegan principles (2), and seek to denigrate in a way that portrays both uncertainty and double standards. Success as unlikely as it would seem, is likely dependent on walking a fine line of integrity; a fine line within an institution which is not particularly versed in candour.

 


(1) ‘Anthropologist Barbara Noske first identified the animal industrial complex as the accumulation of interests responsible for institutionalised animal exploitation.’  Reference.

(2) Separating those ‘private’ beliefs from the public arena.


References.

‘Beyond Boundaries: Humans and Animals’.  Barbara Noske (1997).

Revealing the “Animal-Industrial Complex” – A Concept & Method for Critical Animal Studies?’  Richard Twine (2012)

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Vegan philosophy

owl1Philosophy: a theory or attitude that acts as a guiding principle for behaviour.

Synonyms: beliefs, credo, faith, convictions, ideology, ideas, thinking, notions, theories, doctrine, tenets, values, principles, ethics, attitude, line, view, viewpoint, outlook, world view, school of thought.   (source)

Veganism is a philosophy and practice, and the practice follows from the philosophy. But how much of our practice ought to be taken up by considering the vegan philosophy? It is a regular point of contention that we shouldn’t spend our time pontificating on the internet or in cafes about aspects of veganism, but this overlooks the actual nature of veganism itself. There is that necessary component of thinking that allows us to better understand the principles of veganism and how that can be transformative in itself.

So it is important to regard discussions as an integral part of veganism / animal rights, in order to better understand the philosophy and also to consider its broader implications in society. Whilst some people in the movement can be reluctant to engage with ideas, that should not discourage anyone from becoming involved in discussing those ideas. Understanding ideas means we can communicate with greater efficacy, it can become easier to answer questions from people interested in veganism, and we can develop those broader justice implications from within the vegan philosophy.

So let’s encourage and be encouraged by constructive dialogue, and explore those issues with which we are concerned. We can combine this thinking with taking action to change the society we live in to more closely reflect those vegan values.

 

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