Monday, October 04, 2010

Another Animal-Eating Celebrity Animal Rights Icon

(If you follow me on Twitter or read the
My Face Is on Fire Facebook page, you may have read about all of this earlier today.)

The Woman and Some Context

An abolitionist friend posted a photo on Facebook earlier today of Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Color Purple. She was described as being vegan. This isn't out of the ordinary, since Walker is often quoted by animal activists of all sorts -- whether animal rights or animal welfare proponents -- and by vegans and vegetarians alike. Perhaps her most famous quote?

The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.
With the fascination most have with celebrities perceived as delving into animal activism, speculation has naturally gone 'round for years--and some assertions have even been made--concerning whether Walker is vegan. Even the IVU has chimed in and states on its site that she's vegan (citing an autobiographical work of hers which I think IVU has mistitled). Meanwhile, others content themselves to wonder whether she is even vegetarian. All of this speculation isn't just wrapped around a quote, of course. For instance, at some point a few years back, Walker wrote the foreword to a book comparing the slavery of humans to the slavery of non-humans--a book comparing racism to speciesism.

The Truth

So back to that Facebook friend's photo: I'd never heard Walker confirmed as a vegan, so I decided to do some Googling and discovered the links I've posted above, and then I found out that she maintains a blog. In her own words in a post from November 29 of last year, she wrote:
And it isn’t as if I’m vegan, as Wikipedia claims. I’m just an ordinary run of the mill mostly vegetarian person who still eats chicken soup when I’m sick and roast chicken when I can’t resist.
After I got done rolling my eyes, I saw things go from confused and contradictory to completely sick and twisted. In a lengthy April 20 post from this year addressed to the chickens she enslaves for their eggs and in which she refers to herself as "Mommy", she wrote that "[y]ears ago [she] was vegan for five months".
Then things get more, uh... involved? "Mommy" talks to her chickens about how delicious their eggs are and then talks to them at length about Gandhi--a long convoluted spiel about Gandhi not eating meat and wearing a loincloth, going bald and losing his teeth. And then she tells the chickens all about how she's been eating other non-human animals:
Mommy interrupted her primarily vegetarian diet to have a meal of roast goose [...]. The goose was delicious and helped Mommy’s body and spirit as she crossed the ocean coughing [...]. So in this case, with the roasted goose, Mommy was fine. She thanked it with all her heart for giving its strength to her when she so needed it. Mommy had learned to avoid most vegetarian meals on planes because in the early days, at least, they seemed to be comprised of two tiny bales of hay with unsweetened applesauce smeared over them. She ordered regular fare and carefully picked her way around the flesh.
She then goes on about being brought chicken soup while still sick and although she "could not bring [herself] to eat the chicken, [...] very much enjoyed the broth". And then she, once again, thanked the non-human animals who'd (actively??) "added their strength to [hers]". Then her partner brought her beef stew from a magical place where the food "has a reputation for being from farms where compassion for animals is the rule", which in turn left "Mommy [feeling] energized eating it, rather than depressed".

And it's all downhill from there, kids. Walker lists off--to her beloved chickens, don't forget--the many other animals whose flesh she's savored. Numerous vegan friends who read her blog post today when I shared it on Facebook and Twitter called it "sick", "disturbing", "obscene", "a disappointment" and so on. And as for that oft-repeated Alice Walker quote, Doris Lin who writes for clarified back in April that Walker was merely summing up part of what the author of the aforementioned book comparing racism to speciesism was trying to say. You can read more about it here:
"That Alice Walker Animal Rights Quote".


GB said...

I wonder how many similar cases we have to see before people start to realize that the so called "celebrities" are persons who mostly don't understand anything about anything; but especially about progressive philosophies like abolitionist veganism.

By the way, Mylene, did you know that the Farm Sanctuary's spokesperson for the Walk for Farm Animals project, Bob Harper, supposedly appeared on television promoting "Jennie-O" turkeys? There were some concerned vegans who commented about this on the Farm Sanctuary's Facebook-page, and the response from Farm Sanctuary included the following sentence:

"When we focus our energies on who is the purest amongst us, we do a disservice to animals."

So, evidently, if we expect Farm Sanctuary's spokespersons and so called "vegans" not to promote the slavery, torture and slaughter of nonhuman persons on television, we are "purists". Of course, we can all understand that Bob Harper has a legally binding contract... But, and I think you will agree, this is very different from having the default position of making excuses for these "celebrities", and actually blaming those who expect a consistent standing against speciesism.

It is sad to see such things from organizations where the staff supposed to understand very well the personhood of nonhuman animals; and therefore the moral weight of these issues.

Vanilla Rose said...

In "Animals and Women" (ed Carol J Adams and Josephine Donovan), there was a quote from Alice Walker where she was doing the same double-think routine. So this at least is not news. Celebrities, eh?

Joy Clendening said...

I'm saddened by this. I have that Alice Walker quote on my car because it sums up exactly how I feel. Now I question the validity of having an animal rights quote from someone who doesn't even believe what was said.

Lucas said...

"The Vegetarian Myth is one of the most important books people, masses of them, can read, as we try with all our might, intelligence, skill, hope, dream and memory, to turn the disastrous course the planet is on. It's a wonderful book, full of thoughtful, soulful teachings, and appropriate rage. My admiration for Lierre's sharing of life experience and knowledge is complete."

-Alice Walker

Adam Kochanowicz said...

Ugh, that's too bad. I'm going to have to strike that quotation from the pamphlet. I think it was inherently a good quotation but I don't feel comfortable framing Walker as recognizing any bit of what she is saying.

M said...

Gábor, I didn't know that about Harper. I saw your comments over on Farm Sanctuary's Facebook page. I can understand their predicament, dealing with someone who is under contractual obligations, but it seems to me that they could have found another more appropriate spokesperson. Also, the fact that they responded the way that they did, shows me that they don't take not using animals seriously. For an animal sanctuary to take that tone to defend non-veganism is sad, indeed.

Vanilla Rose, it does indeed seem that Walker has been all over the place with her views on animal use. These days, she seems to be pretty comfortable with publicly asserting that she fully supports the use and consumption of non-humans. I wrote the post hoping to clear up the confusion many have about her stance once and for all.

Joy, don't beat yourself up over it. That quote has been spread around so much by animal rights groups that nobody really questioned it.

Lucas: Thanks for the link. It was brought to my attention on Facebook that she'd written an endorsement of Lierre Keith's book. Pretty disgusting, huh?

Adam, it was indeed a good quotation. Unfortunately, it never actually reflected her views. Well, except for maybe those five months she claims to have been vegan at some point in her life. Although had she seriously held that view, she'd still be vegan.

vegan0 said...

you know, i was just going to post the two links you have in here, to someone, and alice walker's blog now throws a 404 on them. i guess she was ashamed of them.