Friday, December 14, 2012

Vegans Writing About Veganism in Mainstream Media

I was scanning through online newspapers today, looking for vegan holiday meal features. Anyone who claims at this point that veganism is still some sort of obscure ideology of which most people have never heard either don't watch television or don't read the paper or magazines. The word is indeed in circulation and people are curious about it -- for all kinds of reasons.  It's being discussed in entertainment and fashion magazines, in food and health columns, in news stories about rates of chronic illness or the environment. Of course, people are mostly talking around it or using it as a buzz-word, misrepresenting it or taking it out of its ethical context. More than ever, now is a great time for ethical vegans -- for abolitionist animal rights advocates -- to submit opinion pieces on veganism to their school papers, to volunteer to write food articles for their local papers, or to comment on articles we see where veganism is maligned, misinterpreted or lumped together with some other food fad.

Missed Opportunities

Take for instance this short bit in Carlisle, PA's The Sentinel, in which vegan writer Lisa Wardle shares a recipe for homemade black bean burgers and fluffs it out by talking a little bit about veganism. Great opportunity for a wee bit of education, right? Except that she touts it as being good for your health and good for the environment, with nary a single mention of how it's actually remarkably "good" for other animals who'd otherwise end up on someone's plate. Her focus in the article is on food and she presents veganism as being more akin to having an apple a day (y'know, to keep the doctor away) than what it actually is, which is a commitment to rejecting animal exploitation. Indeed, she mentions "not eating animal products once or twice a week" and being "an occasional vegan" as quite beneficial to one's health.

Of course there are indeed health benefits to lessening one's consumption of animal products -- but lessening one's consumption of animal products from time to time doesn't make one "an occasional vegan" any more than not pressing a female employee for sexual favours in exchange for a job promotion a few times a week would make a male manager "an occasional feminist". Think of the seeds that may have been planted in readers' minds by simply changing two or three sentences.

An Opportunity Taken

In Newfoundland & Labrador's The Independent, Jess Dawe went a more elaborate route to write about veganism. I like the piece. It's well-written and a fair amount of thought and research were put into it. She starts off explaining that veganism "is a lifestyle choice" and that it involves avoiding animal use going beyond food and extends to the avoidance of other animal products. Where Dawe unfortunately confuses matters, though, is with her insistence that all kinds of reasons can lead someone to become vegan. For her article, she focuses on health, the environment and then ethics and she then writes:
What I’ve provided here is an overview of three of the most popular reasons someone may adopt a vegan lifestyle. The reasons explored are by no means exhaustive, as there are many other reasons why someone may choose to adopt a vegan lifestyle.
While there may indeed be various triggers to get people thinking about different aspects of their animal use, I doubt that concern for one's health will lead to one's avoiding an animal-using circus or to eschewing leather belts.  Dawe seems aware of this herself as she specifies that switching to a "vegan diet" would be the result of being motivated for either health or environmental reasons. This seems to suggest, though, given that the health and environmental reasons are listed as two of three of "the most popular reasons someone may adopt a vegan lifestyle" that becoming a strict vegetarian and simply not eating animal products (while otherwise continuing to participate in other facets of animal exploitation) qualifies as being "vegan". Veganism isn't just a diet.

Which takes us back to Dawe's introduction, which states outright that veganism isn't just a diet, so why she would list "reasons" that may lead one to merely change one's diet as "reasons" people go vegan is quite confusing. It is no doubt even more confusing to her readers who are constantly bombarded in mainstream media by stories about strict vegetarian Bill Clinton being "vegan" or of other celebrities who've adopted a completely (or mostly) plant-based diet purportedly being vegan. Is it any wonder when we run into leather or wool-wearing folks (I'm looking at you, Kathy Freston). 

I do love many of the points she raises, though -- about being vegan not necessarily meaning you're more healthy, about the ethical reasons one may go vegan not merely revolving around the horrors of factory farming, and so on. The points she raises about the health and environmental aspects of rejecting animal consumption are valid, but health and environmental arguments are really just ancillary when it comes to veganism, whose focus is not on ourselves but is instead on other animals -- or at least it should be if we expect to convince others to respect the rights and interests of those other animals. So reading her article is kind of like reading a pretty decent book, then finding a chapter missing and the order of a few others jumbled.

What about you? Have you thought about writing about some aspect of veganism for your local or school paper? Have you started a blog? Have you considered publishing a 'zine? There are all kinds of opportunities to get the word out there whether in a stealthy or overt way. Others would not be writing about it if the public was not interested in reading about it. Why not give it a shot?

Monday, December 10, 2012

The "Little Steps" that Count

The response to my post from Friday on Mercy for Animals' failure to both combat speciesism and promote veganism has been almost overwhelmingly positive, whether from emails I've received, to comments left on the  blog's Facebook page. Many have agreed that it's essential for animal rights advocates to know the actual ethical positions on which these large groups are basing their advocacy.

Elsewhere on the interwebs, particularly in the anti-abolitionist slanted vegan subreddit of the social news website Reddit, the old familiar accusations of nit-picking and being divisive were the norm, along with my personal favourite: "Well, if you have such a big issue with them, why don't you shut up and go out there and do it better?" As if one wee blogger should be shamed into silence for not being able to compete with the $1.3 million in annual revenue enjoyed by a group like Mercy for Animals! It's funny, though, how none of the negative responses to my blog post actually addressed the content -- and legitimate concerns -- of the blog post. "Every little bit counts," they said about Mercy for Animals' campaigns. " When those so-called little bits involve placating the general public into feeling comfortable with continuing to participate in the exploitation of others, though, where is it that they actually count? Surely not in the interest of those other animals?

Each time HSUS insists that it's not out to end the farming of animals for human consumption, it's telling the public that it's alright to use animals. Each time that PETA or Farm Sanctuary -- a sanctuary, for pete's sake! -- chooses a non-vegan celebrity spokesperson, it's telling the public that it's alright to use animals. Each time Vegan Outreach insists that vegans should shrug off easily avoidable animal ingredients when around non-vegans to avoid looking nit-picky, it's telling the public that it's alright to use animals. Each time Mercy for Animals insist on its website that asking members of the public to go vegan is off-putting, it's telling them that veganism is too hard. And when abolitionists say that veganism is a first step, these groups tell the public that we're extremist and unreasonable. When abolitionists say that all animal advocacy should have veganism as its moral baseline, these groups tell the public that we're critical and divisive. Joe Public nods in relief, forks over a donation and signs a petition, then goes home to a roast chicken dinner.

How absolutely sad that it's become taboo in animal advocacy circles to actually assert unequivocally -- to even merely suggest -- that other animals aren't ours to use. How so very much more crucial it's become for those of us who do reject animal exploitation to speak out. If we agree that veganism should be the starting point for any meaningful advocacy in our fight against speciesism, we should not allow ourselves to be shamed and silenced by those groups who profit from its perpetuation. 

We may not have the millions these organizations do, but every single one of us has the ability to affect someone -- to change someone's heart and mind. Those are the real "little steps" that do count. We need to speak out. If we don't, who will?

Friday, December 07, 2012

So What's the Matter with Mercy for Animals?

I often get into conversations or exchanges with advocates who'll bring up this or that group or organization to mention that they like one of its posters or pamphlets, or that they heard a quote from one of its heads and that this quote really got their attention. Often, I'll find myself nodding and then shrugging, remembering this or that bit of information I'd filed away at some point which had left me dismissing the group in question, whether for its being speciesist and regulationist and as promoting ineffective campaigns, or for its endorsing and condoning (whether explicitly or implicitly) what are portrayed and presented as lesser degrees of animal use. Sometimes the group in question will have  used things like sexism or the threat of violence to promote whichever message it claims as its own. More often than not, the group will have seemed more concerned with fundraising for all of its wrongheaded campaigns than in earnestly effecting serious and permanent change in the public's continued use and exploitation of other animals.

Whatever the reason, there invariably seems to be something that leaves the group either falling short -- often far, far short -- of championing the rights of others or failing altogether to present any sort of clear message to the public about animals not being ours to use. Sadly, there also seems to be a growing tendency for animal groups to publicly distance themselves from the concept of veganism, from the word "vegan" itself and even expressing hostility towards those who refuse to equivocate when it comes to what we owe other animals. Sometimes these animal groups will perpetuate stereotypes and even ridicule those who are unequivocal in asking the public to consider that these sentient beings over 98% of us view as things existing for human use should be left alone. "Every little step counts," they'll assure non-vegans as they cash they donation cheques. "Not everybody will go vegan, so we have to applaud and encourage whatever they're willing to do," they'll argue. "Mentioning veganism is pushy and pushing them is judgmental," they'll insist. It should come as no surprise that validating (again, whether explicitly or implicitly) others' continued use of animals can be profitable.

Over the next while in a regular series of bi-monthly blog posts, I hope to examine some of the better known animal groups whose names get tossed around in activist circles. I'll try to highlight examples of where their advocacy doesn't jive with abolitionist animal rights advocacy and evaluate what they have to say about veganism, whose promotion is the starting point for any earnest and meaningful animal advocacy geared towards combating speciesism.

Mercy for Animals and its SICs

Mercy for Animals has certainly been in the news these last few years, earning itself a fair bit of mainstream media coverage thanks to its taking undercover footage of the abuse of animals at specific factory farms or slaughterhouses. Recently and just in time for the US Thanksgiving holiday, its cameras focused on one of Butterball's turkey facilities to offer up an expose of the horrible treatment endured by the turkeys at the hands of that facility's workers. Mercy for Animals even set up a website called Butterball Abuse on which you can find disturbing portions of the video footage, photos, expert testimony that the footage shows bona fide abuse and then a call to take action by going "vegetarian" (which for Mercy for Animals means adopting a plant-based diet), spreading the word about the Butterball Abuse site and.... making a donation to Mercy for Animals.

So? So the public was horrified. Calls to boycott Butterball popped up all over the internet, whether singling the company out for the obviously (not) out of the ordinary and extreme cruelty caught on film by Mercy for Animals, or for its being involved in factory farming in general. Non-vegans across the interwebs were outraged. How dare Butterball leave them potentially feasting on the carcass of some poor bird who was somehow mistreated? The idea of it was just repugnant. Thanks to Mercy for Animals, participating in animal cruelty could be avoided. Armed with knowledge of Butterball's facilities' workers obviously extraordinarily heinous treatment of the turkeys in its possession, members of the general public were left able to source a turkey from some other company (i.e. in whose facilities no such awful footage had been taken). I've no doubt that it was a relief for those who may actually believe -- or want to believe -- on some level that the majority of turkeys lead perfectly wonderful lives and die quick painless deaths to end up a carved carcass on a holiday table.

When the Exceptional is no Exception

The truth that gets overlooked is that there's no such thing as the humane enslavement and slaughter of any sentient being. From birth to death, other animals raised for human consumption are confined, mutilated, deprived of the chance to form relationships with others (whether kin or not). They're often deprived of even basic things like clean food or water and are just ordinarily treated like things with no interests of their own. Their lives alternate between being filled with terror and boredom. Butterball? Butterball was just an extension of the same old, same old. The company is just particularly well-known and thus made an effective target to single out to be able to grab the most media attention. It worked, but what did it really accomplish? So some Thanksgiving turkey consumers bought their turkeys elsewhere. Maybe a few even skipped over the turkey altogether and opted for a meat-free Thanksgiving, inspired by Mercy for Animals' site -- its "guide to vegetarian and vegan living", which although it offers up a lot of animal-free recipes uses the terms "vegetarian" and "vegan"  interchangeably and thus confusingly.

Limiting the Focus

On its "About" page, the group describes itself as follows: "Mercy for Animals is dedicated to preventing cruelty to farmed animals and promoting compassionate food choices and policies." Right there, we have it stated outright that Mercy for Animals concerns itself with those animals we call "food". Furthermore, this concern zooms in on not whether there should be animals farmed for human consumption, but on how these animals are treated as they're farmed for human consumption. Once upon a time, as evidenced by all of the now-dead links on its "Site Map" page, it engaged in plenty of other single-issue campaigns that are ordinarily very popular and fast-cash-grab types of campaigns -- anti-fur, anti-circus, anti-vivisection, et al. These days, though, the group has limited its scope to highlighting worst-case scenarios when animals are raised to end up on supermarket shelves.

Why "Veg" and not "Vegan"?

In what is perhaps its most bewildering article on its site, one called "The 'V' Word: A Note about Terminology", Mercy for Animals explains why it has chosen to sometimes deliberately avoid using the word "vegan". The group states that it 
always has, and always will, unapologetically encourage people to adopt a lifestyle free of meat, dairy and eggs, based on cruelty-free, plant-based alternatives.
This description, of course, focuses on that part of one's "lifestyle" which concerns itself with eating. When it then addresses how people often ask why it sometimes uses the words "vegetarian" instead of "vegan", it responds by implying that the term "vegan" is off-putting to some segments of the public and that shuffling it out is part of what it calls a "carefully considered strategy" to appeal to those members of the public who are apparently a little skittish. It lists off a bunch of vague or misused  terms -- "pure vegetarian, plant-based, plant-strong, herbivore, or just plain ethical" -- it says are all used to describe "a cruelty-free lifestyle" and explains that it is reclaiming the word "vegetarian" in the sense in which it was initially meant to be used -- to describe a diet free of animal products.

So what's wrong with that? Nothing, I guess, if you're merely advocating an animal-free diet. However, Mercy for Animals lumps the word "vegan" in with the rest of those (apparently interchangeable) terms when what it's really talking about is limited to diet. Veganism isn't a diet... yet the group describes quite plainly that it limits its focus to diet and nonetheless insists that it is in fact advocating "veganism". It makes perfect sense to me, given that the group doesn't promote veganism, that it doesn't employ the word "veganism" to describe any aspect of its advocacy, but hey -- what do I know?

The piece goes on and on about how the word "vegetarian" facilitates more discussions with people and how it's a lure that can be used to grab peoples' attention so that discussions can eventually be had about (whatever it is that it thinks is) veganism. It also goes to great lengths to drive home that using the word "vegan" is alienating and leads to
conversations generally focused on the seemingly endless list of obscure ingredients that are nearly impossible to avoid or how hard it seems to give up cheese or ice cream.
One can't help but wonder how on earth members of the general public could possibly view the word "vegan" in any sort of possible light, given Mercy for Animals' obvious conviction that even just talking about veganism is harmful to advocating veganism -- which Mercy for Animals isn't even advocating in the first place.  And not only does Mercy for Animals try to make a case for its not advocating for whatever it thinks veganism is, but it goes on make a final assumption that "humans" are just incapable of hearing a vegan message at all -- from anyone, and that somehow promoting vegetarianism and with it the idea that there's something ethically significant about just avoiding meat is the only really effective way to fast-track someone to not eating any animal products at all.
As a species, humans tend to have very "all or nothing" mindsets. Because they view veganism as impossibly difficult, they will often write off making any lifestyle changes at all. But when presented with the prospect of going vegetarian, people tend to be much more open-minded and will often take that initial step toward cruelty-free living. Once they’ve taken that first step, the next step is that much easier.

What Mercy for Animals misses, though, is that to "get" veganism, once must accept that it's unethical to use other animals. It in no way follows that condoning different degrees of animal use will somehow facilitate someone's connecting the dots that animals aren't ours to use at all. 


So there you have it. Mercy for Animals' campaigns emphasize the treatment of only certain species of animals -- those we raise for human consumption -- rather than educating the public about whether all animals are ours to use. It profits off confusing people into thinking that some forms of animal use are worse than others and (whether inadvertently or not) by misleading people into thinking that all animal food production isn't always inherently torturous for the animals involved. Furthermore, it misrepresents veganism as a diet and then criticizes using the word "vegan" (whatever it is that it understands this word to mean) as too extremist and as ineffectual and potentially detrimental. How on earth could anyone who takes the rights and interests of other animals seriously support or condone an organization like Mercy for Animals? I certainly couldn't.

Further Listening/Reading:

For information on why vegetarianism isn't a gateway to veganism, listen to Gary Francione's podcast on the topic and then read his follow-up post about it.

For more on the wrongheadedness of SICs, see last month's MFIoF blog post on the topic.

Check back over the next week or so for a feature I hope to do on successful grassroots advocacy in New Zealand, Australia and North America with stories from folks who've taken an abolitionist vegan message to the public.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Veganic Bread?

I don't do product endorsements. Actually, what I mean is that I have never endorsed a specific brand of any type of product on My Face Is on Fire before (at least not deliberately or in a way in which I wrapped a post around said endorsement). It's just never really come up and the truth is that it gets so tricky sometimes to figure out who owns what and which vegan company just got snapped up by which Mega Corp that it's never interested me all that much. Then several weeks ago, I got a friendly email from a representative of a company called One Degree Organic Foods asking me if I'd like to try out their bread.

Now, the funny thing is that if you scroll through the hundreds of food photos I've posted on this blog every month or so for the last few years, you'll see that bread doesn't turn up often. Well, bread loaves of the sort you slice don't turn up often. My obsession with pizza precariously held in check, the only wheat based baked things you'll find more often than "almost never" are wraps, pita bread and the odd organic kamut roll. After checking out the One Degree Organic Foods website, though, I found myself too intrigued to shrug off the offer. See, One Degree's breads are not only organic, but they're veganic. The company sources its ingredients from farmers who use only plant-based fertilizers to grow their non-GMO crops and uses these ingredients to make their healthy and wholesome Canada Organic and USDA Organic certified bread.

It also used something called QR codes which mean little to a more often than not unplugged Luddite like me. Apparently this means that each loaf of their bread has a code on it that can be scanned with a gadget like a smartphone (I wish someone would offer to send me a free smartphone to review for my blog!) so that the purchaser can get detailed information on each ingredient used in the bread. I couldn't try this out myself, but will take their word for it that it works.

What I was good at, on the other hand, was finding things to do with the bread. I was sent a loaf each of their Lentil Grain, Ancient Whole Wheat, Flax and Spelt and Sesame Sunflower breads. My favourites were definitely the Lentil Grain and Sesame Sunflower and I hope to track them down locally in the future. I did ask 2-3 times if I could obtain some coupons for a blog giveaway, but no dice. All I can leave you with are some photos of various ways in which I sampled and devoured some of the crazy amount of bread I was sent.

Organic tofu marinated in soya sauce, ketchup, sesame oil and dried onion flakes, dredged in multigrain flour/nutritional yeast and pan-fried with sliced red onion. Tomato, pickles, avocado and ketchup on lightly-toasted veganic Ancient Whole Wheat bread.
Avocado mashed with lemon juice, crushed garlic and scallions, grilled portobello (it's in there!), tomato and Dijon on One Degree Veganic Sesame Sunflower bread. Broccoli slaw tossed with red bell pepper, parsley and sesame/lemon dressing.
Veganic Lentil Grain bread topped with mushrooms, nooch gravy, cheddar Daiya and fries. Peas on the side.
Flax and Spelt toast with Earth Balance and nooch and a big smear of organic strawberry jam.
Cabbage slaw with Vegenaise. Pickles, tomatoes and Tofurky slice with Dijon mustard on Lentil Grain bread.
Grilled Daiya cheddar  sandwch on Lentil Grain bread. Broccoli slaw tossed with red bell pepper, parsley and sesame/lemon dressing.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Adam Kochanowicz Interview w/Gary L. Francione

Conducted in 2009 at the Rutgers School of Law in Newark, this interview is a must-see for anyone interested in learning more about speciesism and the abolitionist approach to animal rights advocacy.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why I Won't Support Single-Issue Campaigns

What Is a Single-Issue Campaign?

Prof. Gary L. Francione, who's written about single-issue campaigns (SICs) extensively in his published work and on his on his Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach website, defines it simply as such:
A single-issue campaign involves identifying some particular use of animals or some form of treatment and making that the object of a campaign to end the use or modify the treatment.
Basically, instead of focusing on educating the general public about how all animal exploitation is wrong, a spotlight is put on a specific type of use or treatment. Welfarist groups often initiate SICs which focus on how animals used for human consumption or entertainment are treated -- on the size of their cages and the other conditions in which they continue to be enslaved. However, SICs can sometimes confuse advocates by seeming to focus on use, and are thus sometimes misunderstood as being abolitionist in nature.

Why SICs Aren't Abolitionist

I had a conversation with an animal activist friend the other day about groups that wrap their fund-raising around single-issue campaigns (SICs). We were discussing the differences between welfarist and abolitionist activism and how or why it is that activists who are vegan and who don't personally condone animal use -- even sometimes those who self-identify as abolitionist -- may end up participating in some of these SICs. While a few of these groups occasionally do engage in some degree of vegan education and very vocally disassociate themselves from animal welfare groups, they nonetheless keep their main focus on more highly-publicized protests based on eliminating one specific type of animal use, often concerning some "hot button" form of animal exploitation such as the wearing of fur or consumption of foie gras.

Some animal advocates, abolitionist or otherwise, interpret these groups' activities as consistent with striving to abolish -- instead of regulate -- the use of other animals and then extrapolate that these SICs are somehow small steps towards eliminating all animal use. These campaigns often involve fundraising, whether lobbying and public relations costs or legal fees and -- let's admit it -- they're easy sells to a non-vegan public comprised of folks who, for the most part, honestly don't want to think of themselves as participating in any sort of cruel activity. The truth is that they are on different levels counterproductive and inconsistent with an abolitionist approach to animal rights, whether or not the SIC itself seems focused on the use of other animals.

When an animal advocacy group singles out something like the wearing of fur as particularly worthy of its ire, it's generally not all that difficult to get people on board to either scrawl their monikers on petitions or to send a cheque off in the mail. Fur isn't really something which any more than a fairly small minority of the non-vegan public tends to wear and it's generally associated with wealth and disposable income. Basically, it's easy to point a finger at it since most of us don't wear it and we associate it with excess or vanity. It's easier to point at it than to get all up close and personal with our own speciesism and to question the decisions we make each day when we involve ourselves in the cycle that leads to the habitual enslavement and slaughter of so very many others.

When an animal advocacy group gives members of the general public this easy out instead of asking them to reconsider their own speciesism -- to reconsider the mindset that leaves them thinking it's altogether alright to consider participating in this cycle, how does that change things for those other animals? How is this effective in bringing about an end to speciesism? It becomes evident fairly quickly how regardless of whether they focus on treatment or use, promoting SICs is counterintuitive to addressing the speciesism which underlies the casual shrugging off of what so many deem "ordinary" animal exploitation.
"One of These Things Is Not Just Like the Other"

The problem with presenting one particular form of animal use  as somehow being of greater moral relevance than another form of use is that it makes it appear that other forms of animal use are less relevant -- maybe even excusable . Advocates single out fur and picket outside a fur store filled with coats most ordinary folks couldn't afford anyway or circulate petitions which even non-vegans I know myself who collect leather shoes and purses like dryers collect socks wouldn't hesitate to sign, sharing in the advocates' indignation. After all, fur is cruel -- heinous and unnecessary. Cute Italian pumps, on the other hand, are "irresistible", and cheeseburgers are "delicious". If fur is single-out, though, then what about leather? If veal is singled out, then how about the dairy industry? Your tuna may be "dolphin-safe", but that doesn't do a whole heck of a lot for the tuna, does it?

Problems also arise when advocates believe that striving to end one single type of animal use will chip away effectively at the the prevailing mindset held by an overwhelming majority of people that all other animals are ours to use in whichever way we desire. Henry Thoreau once wrote: "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one striking at the root". By picking "easy sell" campaigns and convincing non-vegans to find certain forms of animal use in which they don't ordinarily engage outrageous or repulsive, nothing effective is accomplished in terms of addressing the everyday types of animal use in which most people engage and which most view as normal, ordinary and acceptable.

In fact, perhaps the greatest danger when it comes to SICs is that non-vegans often latch on to them and let themselves be lulled into thinking that by throwing $20 or $50 into the pot -- a donation to help the goodly animal advocates fight the Big(gest of the) Bad(s) means that they've truly done their "part" -- that they've done "enough" for other animals and can carry on with the ordinary and everyday types of animal use in which they engage which in turn leads to 150 billion animals being slaughtered globally each and every year just for human consumption.

Veganism as Moral Baseline and Message

I've not scribbled any earth-shattering revelations here. If you've leafed through some of Gary Francione's books or have spent some time on his website, you'll already be familiar with much of what I've written -- possibly even in much greater nuanced detail than I've articulated. If you've ever spent time reading the now-defunct Unpopular Vegan Essays blog (and many other abolitionist blogs along with it which have come and gone over recent years), none of what I've presented here should be new to you. Sometimes things just need to be re-emphasized, though. Sometimes when we get swept up in wanting to do the right thing, we forget that what may feel right -- may feel good -- isn't necessarily what's most effective in the end. And in the end all that truly matters is that we shift the status quo permanently.

For more information on SICs presented by folks much more knowledgeable and wordsmith-y than this wee blogger, read this and this. Don't hack at the branches, reach for the low-hanging fruit, cherry-pick causes and (a whirlwind of analogies and metaphors aside) confuse someone into thinking that anything other than taking non-human animals seriously -- and rejecting their use in all facets of our everyday lives where and when we can -- could ever be enough. Going vegan is the very least we can do and spreading this message to the overwhelmingly non-vegan public is, in fact, the very least that all animal advocates should do. At least it's the very least we should do if we earnestly want to bring about an end to the continued enslavement, torture and slaughter of others. Think about it.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Bits and Blurbs in the News

On Being Full of Beans About Veganism

"Hooray! Superstar So-and-So has gone vegan!"

Call me cynical, but each time I read something akin to this, my heart continues to beat its same old kathump and my attention is sooner-than-later diverted elsewhere. Most of the time, what is meant is that "Superstar So-and-So" decided to adopt a plant-based diet for a while to lose weight for a role or to cash in on some sort of PETA-related media attention. It's often temporary and sometimes partial and since the focus is merely on diet and is usually for self-concerned aesthetic or health reasons, at some point or another during a slow news week, someone in the media tries to dig up a gotcha moment and succeeds.

Such was the case with Houston Texans running back football player Arian Foster, who just a few months ago was featured on Ecorazzi for having adopted a "vegan diet" and Foster himself boasted of being "vegan" on Twitter.  Now what's splattered all over the news this week is that Foster's veganism includes eating meat.
“I’m not in a cult,” Foster said. “Nothing’s going to happen to me. I just wanted a piece of chicken. It wasn’t like temptation. I felt like I could use one.”

“I’ve been dabbling back and forth,” Foster said on his diet. “I just like to eat healthy. The whole vegan thing, a lot of people are really interested in my food. … I’ve had meat since I said I don’t eat meat anymore, but I like to stay with the plant-based foods, but every now and then, I’ll eat something.”
So there you have it, folks: Veganism is a diet and if you don't feel comfortable having the occasional piece of meat while on it, you're in a cult. Now if you'll excuse me, I think that I just saw something shiny out of the corner of my...

Monday, November 05, 2012

PETA: Redefining "Tasteless" One Campaign at a Time

Earlier today, Jezebel featured a YouTube video uploaded by PETA Europe on October 31, purportedly "in honour of World Vegan Day". Jezebel described it as "horrifying" and summed it up as follows: "Hey guys, with a plant-based diet, you will be able to leer at women, like, all day, waving your genitals at them while you grimace in a vaguely menacing way." If that sounds like a melodramatic overreaction to you, I assure you that it's not. Check it out for yourselves:

Some of the comments left in response to the video on YouTube:

"Go home PETA. You're drunk."
"This is the stupidest video ever. What are you trying to tell us???"
"So if you join PETA your ding-dong turns into a plant?"
"Go vegan and you might improve your sex life. Do drugs and you might land a job with PETA."
I don't even know where to start with it, myself. It's lewd on so very many levels and is unfortunately not that far-removed from what I've come to expect from PETA. Your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Bill and Lou: Who's for Dinner

Even several years into being vegan, there are conversations I overhear or articles I read that sometimes leave me feeling more than a little weirded out about the people mouthing or writing the words in question. I'm used to walking around in a world where others around me adopt this sort of "out of sight, out of mind" mentality about the animals they call "food" and chomp into their mystery meat of choice without giving it a second thought. I used to be one of them and it still baffles me how clueless I was when it came to connecting the dots and to realizing that the pieces of meat and cheese between my two slices of bread come from someone and not something.

But times have changed and we now have the likes of writers like Jonathan Safran Foer Mark Bittman earning a living off of yammering to the public about so-called conscious eating and the need to acknowledge how an animal who is bred and raised to end up on a human's dinner plate is treated, and to look for ways to reassure yourself that this animal you eat (or whose secretions you eat) hasn't been tortured as much as usual. "But they're starting getting people thinking and starting conversations!" some may insist. What they're doing, though, is getting people thinking about ways to feel better about continuing to use others. We're left with a small growing movement of animal treatment apologists whose penance, it seems, involves enslaving and slaughtering the animals themselves. 

From chickens or rabbits fussed over in the backyard as pets before ending up carcasses in their freezers to handpicking baby goats on "happy, happy" local farms where you can witness the animal's slaughter, from the rise in popularity in urban areas of weekend survivalist hunting expeditions and of butchering classes where eager participants learn how to slice or scrape off every single part of an animal's carcass so that this his or her death may not be deemed "wasteful". We're left with articles glorifying the act of killing others. "What I feared most was the screaming. Desperate cries from a freaked out pig might ruin bacon for me forever," Chicago Tribune's Monica Eng wrote back in 2008 of her visit to a place she visited called Paradise Meat Locker, on a quest inspired by Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma to justify her continued consumption of others. In the end, Eng kicked it up a notch and involved her kids in her quest and wrapped up her article like a proud mom, quoting her daughter's saying to a slice of prosciutto, "Thank you, pig. I love you pig. Now I'm going to eat you."

Green Mountain College
In the name of knowing where one's "food" comes from, it seems to have become commonplace for people to say the creepiest things about the animals they insist on treating as things while engaging in some sort of pretense of empathy, or worse, of "honour" or "respect". If you have spent any time on any social networking sites over the last few days, you'll already be aware of this great show of warm fuzzies at Green Mountain College in Vermont. The New York Times featured an article on the college this past weekend ("Oxen's Fate Is Embattled as the Abattoir Awaits") and on their farm's oxen, Bill and Lou, who've been used to till the farm's fields and to plow snow for most of the past decade. 

Lou, it seems, injured his leg while working and can no longer till. Bill has been assessed as healthy but "aging" and likely unable to keep working without his sidekick of many years. The options weighed for both were euthanasia (although in Bill's case, this would be a euphemism for obviously needless killing), sanctuary (which leaves me wondering why euthanasia was being considered for Lou in the first place) and slaughtering them both to serve them up in the college's cafeteria for students and staff to devour. "'It makes sense to consume the resources we have on campus,' said [farm director] Mr. Ackerman-Leist."
The decision to slaughter them and feed them to the college's staff and students is merely a continuation of those who've enslaved them viewing them as no more than commodities, squeezing the last bit out of them they can.

The situation which has resulted is confusing at best. Some people -- locals, students, animal rights activists, and others -- are outraged. Others view the decision as merely rightfully reflecting the college's focus on sustainability. The situation is problematic on many levels, some more obvious than others. On one hand, Bill and Lou are no different from any other of the billions slaughtered each year for human consumption, other than that the world has now come to know them as "Bill and Lou". The irony in that their planned slaughter is being protested by non-vegans as well as vegans merely drives home the speciesist acceptance that animals are ours to use, but that how they are used hinges upon how able they are to secure our affection. After all, The New York Times didn't care all that much about Bill and Lou those ten years they were used in lieu of a tractor to till the soil, did it? 

On the other hand, their plight brings to light the whole mucked up "conscious consumer" trend and the notion that as long as we convinced ourselves that an animal has had a "happy" life that it's OK for us to take that life away from him or her.
“Our choice is either to eat the animals that we know have been cared for and lived good lives or serve the bodies of nameless animals we do not know,” said William Throop, the college’s provost, who specializes in environmental ethics. 

Andrew Kohler, a senior, took a course in which he learned how to drive the oxen team. [...] “They start listening to you, and they become your friend,” Mr. Kohler said. “I feel honored to eat them.” 
The quote above reflects another thing that's problematic about the whole situation. Whatever lives they may or may not have lived, it's clear that they're no longer seen as having any use to Green Mountain College for the purpose in which they've been used up until now. It also echoes that whole idea that it's somehow more ethical to take another's life if you are express thankfulness and humility at your having been able to do have done so.

As a vegan, I also couldn't help but notice that the either/or presented concerning what we (or the staff and students at the college) eat is 1) happy, happy Bill and Lou or 2) others like them who've not been singled out by the public as individuals. Where's the option to not eat animals? 
On campus, support for their consumption is strong, even among the 30 percent of students who are vegan or vegetarian.
“It’s about sustainability, and I’ve been a vegetarian for three years, but I’m excited to eat Bill and Lou,” said Lisa Wilson, a senior. “I eat meat when I know where it comes from.”
Basically, the message communicated loud and clear is that killing and eating Bill and Lou is so very much the right thing to do that even people who don't usually eat other animals are clamouring to dig in. (Not that I see the word "vegetarian" as being ethically relevant in terms of what we owe other animals, but I'm guessing it helps to better contextualize why Wilson would make such a dumb contradictory statement -- which incidentally smells like third-rate spin -- when you keep in mind that she appears to be one of only two students sitting on the Green Mountain College Sustainability Council.)
Slaughtering them isn't a necessity; it's an option, and one easily passed over. According to the college's official public statement posted on its Facebook page, it was somehow deemed that sending them to a sanctuary would be unethical since they would continue to consume resources (adding that the two will have to be killed at some point anyway):
Those who know Lou and Bill best—our farm staff and students—are uncomfortable with the potential ramifications of sending the animals to a sanctuary. Bill and Lou are large animals, weighing over a ton. A transition to a new setting will be difficult for them, and only postpones the fact that someone else, in the not-too-distant future, will need to decide that it is kinder to kill them than to have them continue in increasing discomfort. If sent to a sanctuary, Bill and Lou would continue to consume resources at a significant rate. As a sustainable farm, we can’t just consider the responsible stewardship of the resources within our boundaries, but of all the earth's resources.
So the fact that Bill and Lou eat -- gobble up resources -- was factored into killing them?  At a college where the feeding of animal flesh to over 70% of its resource-hungry student population is the norm, this sounds a little ironic, no? Then again, the college presented killing the oxen for food as its apparently only really viable option to feed its non-vegan students as it "striv[es] to meet their dietary preferences". So dietary preferences trump concerns of the regular gobbling up of resources, and the simply not eating of animals or of animal products gets swept off the table altogether. Bill and Lou? They're just convenient to take the edge off. 
According to one of the more recent comments left on the college's Facebook page in response to it's announcement of their decision concerning the oxen, Bill and Lou were, in fact, killed yesterday. If this is true, the public will find out soon enough and then most of those involved will go back to eating maybe not oxen with names, but any of the billions of cows, chickens, pigs, fishes and so on (or their secretions) that will continue to be slaughtered, not worthy of the attention of New York Times readers. It seems that even even being recognized as individuals by others, whether or not those others are confused about what it is that we owe non-human animals, isn't enough to save your life when you're someone else's property.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What Vegans Eat

Reviews of a few Halifax eateries aside, it's been a few months since I've splattered some food photos on the blog to provide an example of the range and variety of foods that vegans eat. Here are a few things I've tossed together in the last few months:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

For the Sake of a Little Flesh...

For my part I rather wonder both by what accident and in what state of soul or mind the first man [...] touched his mouth to gore and brought his lips to the flesh of a dead creature, he who set forth tables of dead, stale bodies and ventured to call food and nourishment the parts that had little before bellowed and cried, moved and lived. How could his eyes endure the slaughter when throats were slit and hides flayed and limbs torn from limb? How could his nose endure the stench? How was it that the pollution did not turn away his taste, which made contact with the sores of others and sucked juices and serums from mortal wounds? [...] We slaughter harmless, tame creatures without stings or teeth to harm us, creatures that, I swear, Nature appears to have produced for the sake of their beauty and grace. [...] For the sake of a little flesh we deprive them of sun, of light, of the duration of life to which they are entitled by birth and being.

-- Plutarch, Moralia

The Bandwagon's Getting Crowded

A Californian friend who's a regular and thorough reader of the New York Times fell into the habit a while back of sending me links to veganism-related articles he would come across. Given the number of pieces that have been run over the past several months on food ethics -- ranging from clumsy pokes to hostile swings at veganism -- he's been kept busy. Some low points came earlier this year and included "Wellness" writer Tara Parker-Pope's unforgivably sloppy piece in April on the supposed difficulty of going vegan, and the fiasco that same month which was the ridiculous mini-essay contest to defend meat eating in its "Ethicist" column also in April (which was followed by that column's writer's leaving her post). The ongoing sometimes overtly anti-vegan and sometimes "66.66%" vegan writings of Mark Bittman (including his 2009 "Wellness" guest-post bemoaning his having supposedly become protein deficient from skipping meat at lunch and breakfast) set the stage for it early on, as did various one-sided articles on things like the popularity of hobby butchering classes.

It was hardly much of a surprise this morning to get an email with a brief "Have you seen this?" and a link to yet another story that fits into what seems to have become commonplace in the New York Times. This time 'round, it was a Mark Bittman interview with a woman called Sherie Rene Scott who is apparently a former vegetarian who's decided to stage a one-woman show called "Piece of Meat" to talk about her return to meat-eating after having spent "her entire adult life as a vegetarian". Scott sums up the show in her interview as being about "desire". The one word I'd probably choose to sum up the show? "Opportunistic". Or maybe "shuffling". I'd hardly use the words "innovative" or "creative".

The article's started to go around online animal advocacy circles with some advocates focusing on how apparently awful it is that Scott's gone public with her return to meat-eating and then attempting to profit off of it by turning it into entertainment. As ended up being discussed over the course of the day on Gary Francione's Facebook page, there are many things problematic with both Scott's actions and interview and few of them really have anything at all to do with the fact that after 26 years of consuming animal products she decided to start consuming yet another animal product.
Vegetarianism was a part of my being, not just something I identified with politically; it was who I was, a part of my nature. And for it — for this desire — to come up in me, I had never been tempted in all of that time. So I looked at every aspect in my life to see what could I possibly be lacking. A lack of nourishment artistically? Was I hungry for another type of flesh, like a middle-aged lady hot to trot? But then my doctor said that female vegetarians over 40 do not get enough iron, and he said, “It’s eat meat or you get treated for anemia.”
Where to begin with this, really? So consuming animal products (i.e. eggs, dairy, likely otherwise using them in skin care products and so forth) was a part of her "being" -- a part of her "nature" and so she ended up opting to consume other animal products (i.e. animal flesh). She speculates about it having been triggered by some sort of artistic lack and makes a tacky ageist and sort of sexist comment about middle-aged women, not very cleverly comparing sex to meat-eating. I mean, seriously? Yet Bittman describes her show as "quite feminist".

She then tacks on that some authority figure made the scare-mongering claim that "female vegetarians over 40 do not get enough iron". Now, do I really, really need to start linking to the multitudes of authoritative documents that will provide sufficient fodder for the nose-thumbing that claim deserves? Even the most mainstream of medical and nutrition-oriented organizations in North America have long-since offered up official positions confirming that a well-planned vegan diet (never mind a vegetarian diet's like Scott's) can not only be perfectly healthy, but may even be more healthy than one in which animal products are consumed. Do a Google search. I dare you. Also, this whole ultimatum (i.e. "eat meat or you get treated for anemia") she uses as justification is almost funny. Oh gosh! Treatment for anemia -- the horror! Faced with the hardship of perhaps having to take iron supplements for a short while and to then (gasp!) increase her consumption of awful things like quinoa, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, collards and spinach, she was left with no choice other than to go back to consuming the one animal product she had (perhaps) not been consuming.

Of course, as most of these folks do, she tries to dredge up some sympathy, expressing that when she  gobbled down her first bites of animal flesh in 26 years, she shed tears. But this soon swings to the old familiar and very, very trendy presentation of meat-eating as some sort of visceral and sexy thing -- a touching base with one's predatory self that in Scott's case comes out sounding like some victim's twisted need for revenge:
I’ll align myself with the prey. I want to enjoy my flesh, and other people’s flesh, when it’s my choice. I don’t want to constantly be treated like a piece of meat. And I had to look at how I had treated others as a piece of meat, too. When have I been the predator?
So having felt like a victim of violence, her logical response is to choose to adopt what she describes herself as a predatory nature? (Don't people usually go to therapy for this sort of thing?) She chooses to embrace her animal exploitation, and following in the steps of many others who've cashed in while doing so, perpetuates this weird, weird notion that so many others have been flinging around, that it's somehow more ethical to do something if you do it wide-eyed and deliberately. Using other sentient beings is OK, according to Scott, "[a]s long as you're doing it consciously". So if I punch you in the nose deliberately and having weighed doing so beforehand, it's somehow less wrong than if I just did it without thinking? 

What really gets to me is how hilarious it is that the end of the interview that she claims that although so many talk about their journey toward vegetarianism, "no one talks about leaving the fold". I mean, has she not read the New York Times in the past 3-5 years to see that rather than come forth shamefully, others like her have seized the opportunity to jump on a bandwagon to flaunt their exploitation of others? The fact that Scott merely chose to shuffle around how she exploits animals -- whether eating or wearing their flesh or drinking their secretions -- matters little. What's unfortunate and a real shame, though, is the New York Times' continuing indulgence in presenting to its readers this constantly lopsided take on animal exploitation issues. Scott? She's just another drop in the bucket.

We have so much work to do. Please talk to someone about going vegan today.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mary's Place and Mary's Place II

A few weeks ago, I took my first trip out of town since last February when I'd flown to Berkeley via San Francisco. People had warned me that veganism is old hat to many Bay area eating establishments and that I would find myself delightedly overwhelmed with choices when I ventured out.

In recent years, I've seen an increase in vegan options being made available in my tiny city's eateries. Most of this has been the result of new Middle Eastern or Asian restaurants opening and of the establishment of a vegan-friendly vegetarian juice bar/bistro called Nirvana (whose Facebook page is frequently speckled with enthusiastic promises of free hugs to patrons by its young yoga-fiend staff). 

I'd visited Halifax last year and had fallen in love with Heartwood (which I visited again last month. I made it out to the Wooden Monkey again this year for their Daiya smothered organic blue corn chip nachos, too. I'd hoped to venture out and visit 2-3 other places, but my trip ended up shorter than anticipated so I decided to stop in someplace that had come highly recommended through members of the Nova Scotia Vegan Association. That place was Mary's Place at 2752 Robie St in Halifax's north end.


The word "unobtrusive" comes to mind to describe Mary's Place. From the outside, it looks like any other little diner in an area of the city much less prone to drawing tourists. I almost missed it during my wanderings since I'd forgotten to jot down its street number. I stepped into what was, in effect, a quirky little diner with the low drone of a television from its cash register area competing with the Middle Eastern music spilling out from the kitchen, sometimes with sporadic sing-a-long thrown in for good measure by the wait staff while cleaning tables.

At 3 pm in the afternoon, I was one of five customers chowing down.
I was greeted almost immediately with a glass of water as I sat down to look around. Mary's Place is by no means a vegan restaurant and its menu was loaded with everything from a greasy all-day breakfast offering to hamburgers and meat kabobs. However, I'd come for what I'd been told was the wide variety of vegan options on the menu which I'd been promised had some of the best Syrian food in the city.

A few items on the board.

Chatty diners. (Nice 'stache!)
One of the neatest aspects of its menu involves a section of 21 vegan dishes from which you can pick any three to assemble a plate. The choices ranged from tabouli, foul salad (i.e. fava beans), stuffed grape leaves and veggie kafta to stewed tomato okra, lentil soup and veggie chili. I ordered the the fattoush, veggie kafta and baba ghanoush, It came with flat bread, a dollop of hummus, pickled turnip and some complimentary coffee -- all for around $8.50 plus tax and tip. The fattoush was really tasty and the baba ghanoush was some of the best I've ever had. The veggie kafta was a little bland -- sort of like mushy falafel without the seasoning, which was no surprise given that it's mostly bulgar (with red and green pepper, garlic and herbs). It went pretty well with the hummus and pickled turnip, though. One thing is for certain: It was a whole heap of relatively healthy and very yummy food -- and cheap!

I liked it so much, in fact, that when my host Mike and I met up for a cup of coffee at Humani-T Cafe to discuss where to go for dinner my last night in the city, I suggested that we try out its newer second location, Mary's Place Café II at 5982 Spring Garden Rd, so that I could compare and contrast the two.

We showed up at Mary's Place Café II sometime after 7 pm on a Tuesday. In a popular location closer to a few of Halifax's university campuses, this spot definitely had a completely different vibe to it than the original Mary's Place on Robie. It was larger and much, much brighter. It was also licensed. To be honest, I can't for the love of Zeus remember whether there was alcohol of any sort mentioned on the menu at the Robie St location, but it was prominently advertised here on each table. Also, from eyeballing the menu, it seemed more expansive. It also seemed more expensive. The combo dish I'd gotten earlier on Robie St had cost me $8.50 and although I didn't jot it down (hey, I'm no professional restaurant reviewer!) I think the same deal here was for around $10.00 and minus the coffee.

Our enthusiastic and helpful server answered our questions quite patiently and took our orders. Mike and I both opted for a starter dish on the appetizers section of the menu that offered tabouli, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, baba ghanoush, hummus, tahini sauce, garlic sauce and flat bread. The presentation was somewhat more involved than it had been at the original Mary's.

Seriously more involved than it had been at the original Mary's! Sadly, though, my friend and I both agreed that although the sesame seed encrusted heart-shaped falafel added a nice (if corny) touch, they were sort of dry and bready and not what either of us had expected. I regret not having tried the falafel at the other location so that I could have compared the two.

To round things out, we ordered a side of toasted potatoes in garlic sauce that ended up leaving us with waaay too much food for us to finish off. At $5 a huge basket though (some of the ones in the photo below had already migrated to our bellies), they're a scrumptious carb-laden treat to get if you're just looking to split some munchies over a beer.

Will I return to either place when I go back to Halifax? Probably. Mary's Place on Robie St is the sort of spot to which I'd drag an old friend to sit down for a cozy late lunch and conversation over coffee.  Although the service at the second location was awesome and the food was pretty good, the bright lights and student-oriented vibe didn't appeal to me as much. I probably wouldn't squeeze Mary's Place II into a brief visit, but it would be the sort of spot I wouldn't rule out visiting again if I actually lived in the city.

I have to admit, though, that as someone with limited vegan options in my small city that the thought of having either of these places here is definitely appealing. I miss Halifax already.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Misrepresenting the Abolitionist Approach, Part II: On Hugs and Merit Badges

On Calling Not Changing the Subject "Changing the Subject"

In his post offering up the reasons he had changed his mind about participating in a podcast discussion with Gary Francione, James McWilliams had stated that "it [would] accomplish nothing except intensify the polarization that [McWilliams was] trying to minimize". Rather than take the opportunity to substantiate claims made during his recent public criticism of abolitionist advocates, he'd written that his intention was to instead continue developing his own arguments on his blog. The message received, based on his followers' reactions in the comments (reactions to which he did not respond and which he did not correct) was that debating the differences between abolitionist animal rights and welfarism is a waste of time and that he was no longer going to waste his own time doing it. I figured he'd meant that. So I was disappointed to amble over to his site the other day to find that he'd chosen to re-post an article by Melanie Joy in which she dredges up the welfare-abolition debate and takes a few passive-aggressive swipes at abolitionists.

A Reluctant Finger-Wagger

Joy starts off echoing McWilliams' message about how debating the fundamental differences between welfarism and abolitionist animal rights is a waste of time that she's always avoided, but that the apparently horribly traumatic and negative effects of those differences' having recently been aired forced her make an exception and to give up some of her time to weigh in. She starts off assuring us that there's nothing left to be said in the welfare vs. abolition debate -- she says it's "gridlocked". She implies that focusing on it at all is a soul-sucking time-sink. So? She offers up a fix -- a "reframe", she calls it, to make all of our lives "more peaceful" and our activism "more effective".

Critical Discourse and Debate Are "Non-Vegan"?

Joy suggests that we step away from what she calls the "content" of the issue (i.e. the facts and ethical arguments) and focus instead on "the way we communicate" -- the "process". She sets up a false dichotomy, suggesting that advocates can do one of two things. We can be "argumentative" so that
[o]ur consciousness and process can mirror the speciesist [...] culture we are working to transform, thus reinforcing, for instance, ideological rigidity, black-and-white thinking, defensiveness, bullying, self-righteousness, and hostility.
Otherwise, we can be "cooperative" and let our, um, consciousness
reflect the core principles of veganism – principles such as compassion, reciprocity, justice, and humility – the essence of a “liberatory” consciousness (and process), a way of being (and relating) that is fundamentally liberating and that I believe can significantly empower the important strategic conversations we need to continue to engage in.
She goes on to use the term "non-liberatory" to describe the former, which is also what she writes she's observed is brought to the table when differences in goals, strategy and tactics are discussed.

Conflating Diversity Within One with the Differences Between Two

Joy brings up that old familiar notion of the strengthening effect of diversity and extrapolates from it that we should somehow recognize that there is similar strength in our "differences" as advocates. She suggests that we should see the fundamental differences between what I've already mentioned in my previous post have realistically become two altogether different animal advocacy movements -- one welfarist focusing on how other animals are used and the other abolitionist and focusing on whether other animals are ours to use at all -- and that we should see liken these differences to mere diversity within one movement and as "opportunities" to strengthen what Joy calls "our movement". The thing is that likening diversity to those differences goes beyond comparing apples to oranges and makes as much sense as comparing a bowl of nooch gravy to a piece of granite. To insist otherwise merely undermines the seriousness of those differences.

Things get a whole lot more skewed in the article as Joy continues to weave into her text as a given that we're all apparently focused on the same goal -- i.e. that we're one movement with our collective eye on the same prize. She mentions "differences in terms of how effective various strategies are for ending animal exploitation" and that although some of those strategies may be "counterproductive" that "we" (i.e. members of an apparently comprehensive movement bent on ending animal use) need to discuss our different strategies "openly" and without "argu[ing] with each other"... but what exactly does she mean by "arguing"?

Debating = Evil

Surely, you would think that she's dismissing "arguing" in its common sense, when emotions are heated, tables are flipped and fists are shaken in the air? But no, according to Joy, merely having a rational critical discussion where you're expected to defend claims you make is tantamount to falling into this supposed non-vegan and "non-liberatory" mindset. Joy, in effect, decides to attack the entire idea and usefulness of debating, in and of itself. This form of critical engagement -- this rational exchange of information and arguments to clarify and substantiate claims and positions -- is purportedly rigid and extremist, according to Joy. It's just a contest and is all about winning. In fact, not only is it all about winning, but it's about labeling the person with whom you're engaging in critical dialogue a "loser". It apparently leaves the observer or listener to said debate limited to accepting one of two positions (obviously not the so-called loser's) and leaves the observer or listener completely in the dark about possible nuances to whatever topic is being debated. Presumably, this is because Joy thinks that people are incapable of listening and then reflecting upon and processing what they hear?

She contrasts debate with "dialogue" as if they're two completely altogether different things. Dialogue alone, it seems, allows for the sharing and exchange of information. Dialogue alone fosters an awareness of "multiple perspectives". Dialogue alone leads us to contemplations and thoughtfulness upon hearing different perspectives. Debate? It just leaves us pumping the air all "non-liberatory"-like, itching to see a victor and a vanquished. She writes: 
Achieving our objective of animal liberation depends on developing a comprehensive, complex, sophisticated, and flexible strategic approach to targeting a comprehensive, complex, sophisticated, and ever-changing form of institutionalized oppression. It is unlikely that the reductive, black-and-white rhetoric of debate can ever produce such nuance and analytical richness.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I smell straw. It's possible that she comes by it honestly and that Joy's own experience with debates has left her unnerved -- that a bad experience has left her with a limited and one-sided idea of their purpose or process. There's a certain irony in that something that's such an ordinary part of what I should hope most thinkers or academics view as critical dialogue ends up made a straw man by Joy and that her contrast between this straw man and her notion of "dialogue" is in and of itself as narrow and "black and white" as the outcome she purports results from engaging in debate. Debate, she claims, is "problematic" and is in fact "an obstacle". It's "non-liberatory" and thus (gasp!) non-vegan.

I'm a Pepper, He's a Pepper
She's a Pepper, We're a Pepper

Having established that debates are a Big Bad, Joy branches off from this to get to what I think is the true purpose of her essay, which is explain why it's just plain silly that some who call themselves abolitionists would want to engage in debate with others they call welfarists. According to Joy, advocates are just plain old confused. They've mistaken strategy for ideology (with the latter presented as "morally loaded", as if it's somehow horrible to attribute rightness or wrongness to something and to take a stance accordingly). Her concern, it seems, is that self-described abolitionists who busy themselves educating others about not using animals and who see other advocates focusing on how animals are used (and not engaging in vegan education) are making a big mistake in assessing those actions as reflecting the other advocates' ideology. According to Joy, those differences are just strategic and we're apparently all, in fact, seeking the abolition of animal use. She writes that it's only "when we untangle ideology from strategy [that] we can redirect the conversation to how best to bring about this end without getting sidetracked by moral argumentation. (Because who on earth would want to lose their way advocating for the rights of others by getting distracted actually discussing silly things like "rights" or other "morally loaded" junk?) 

I won't go into detail about how Joy rambles on about how there is absolutely no evidence that promoting welfare reform will or won't bring about the abolition of animal use, except to suggest to she should put down her Cooney and pick up a copy of Gary L. Francione's Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement or (better yet) The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation? and that she perhaps consider taking a quick look at some of the (dare I say it?) nuanced writings on his website about why one should opt to focus on educating others to go vegan rather than waste time on attempts at welfare reform (attempts which often end up reinforcing the idea to non-vegans that other animals are indeed ours to use). Joy writes that "our investment in being right can prevent us from being effective" which misses the point altogether that for abolitionists, our investment is not in being "right", but in convincing others to go vegan. For me, hearing that someone's connected the dots and has rejected animal use is what's effective. Joy's investment in thinking that I'm participating in a contest or sporting event is preventing her from seeing that I'm fighting a holocaust.

To Joy, though, we're all on the same side, albeit some of us are trying to play soccer and to force other advocates into forming an opposing team so that we can just whup their arses for the sake of whupping arses. Debating, according to Joy, is just the "othering" of fellow advocates for the sake of arse-whupping. In fact, she points out, the whole "welfare-abolition debate" is a perfect example of this. It's a "myth", she tells us. It's just a construct slapped together by those who call themselves abolitionists. Why? Supposedly to force into a make-believe opposing camp other vegans who don't self-identify as having any sort of specific political or ethical stance when it comes to the question of the morality of animal use per se. If their actions reflect a political or ethical stance (e.g. through participating in or promoting regulationist campaigns)? Joy says that using a descriptor to identify them is antagonistic and irrelevant if they, themselves, don't self-identify with that same descriptor. (An aside: I wonder if Joy would take this one step further, then, and assert that if someone doesn't self-identify as, say, a sexist, that this person cannot rightfully be called a sexist?) Plus, throwing that descriptor out there is tantamount to actively foiling the hard work that other advocate is doing, whatever that "work" may be.
Identification with a position has largely been the province of a small group of vegans who have constructed an identity around their strategic-ideological approach and who have constructed labels for both themselves and the other “side.” In our soccer analogy, it’s as if there is only one team trying to win the game; the rest of the individuals don’t even think of themselves as a team and are simply moving across the field, only kicking the ball when it gets in their way.
Even when she admits for a second that maybe there is indeed something to abolitionists contrasting themselves with advocates whose focus is not on use, but on treatment, Joy insists that the difference between welfarists and abolitionists is still somehow make-believe -- a "myth":
To be fair, just because only a minority of vegans have a “team” identity, this does not mean that the majority play no role in constructing the debate. It is entirely possible that the small, vocal minority have developed a cohesive group identity because they have felt that their valid and pressing concerns have not been taken seriously by the broader vegan culture. Both “sides” must work to defuse the Myth of the Great Debate.
So in the end, there is no such thing as a welfarist or an abolitionist according to Melanie Joy -- all vegans are ultimately abolitionists (Joy's obviously never heard of Wayne Pacelle, Paul Shapiro or of Erik Marcus). Oh, and for heaven's sake -- don't try to debate her on this, because you'll just be kicking a soccer ball in her path and blocking the effective advocacy in which she is currently engaged by trying to blur distinctions between two altogether different movements. Joy's intention seems to be to shame and to silence the one movement that is unequivocal about its focus on animal rights while fighting to end animal exploitation. She seems to want to co-opt the descriptor "abolitionist" as it is understood now in animal advocacy circles, and to stretch it out to include anyone and everyone who wants to self-identify with it, regardless of their ethical stances or of their actions and complicity in the reinforcement of speciesist attitudes. I'm guessing that explaining to her that terms come with context and with definitions would just lead to an accusation that I was being confrontational and "non-liberatory".

Descriptors Aren't Merit Badges

Isn't it funny? This whole business of calling those who are actually abolitionists and who reject animal use things like "extremist", "divisive", "bullies", et al. while wanting to co-opt the term for people who aren't actually abolitionist but who still involve themselves in perpetuating animal use by focusing on treatment, it's really no different than animal-using vegetarians calling vegans extremist, divisive, bullies, et al. and then vegetarians wanting to co-opt the term "vegan" to self-identify as some "degree" of vegan as they continue to deliberately engage in avoidable animal use. Vegans get scolded and shamed into accepting vegetarianism (i.e. animal use) as somehow being no more than a wee moral sidestep (lest they be deemed holier-than-thou, judgmental, the vegan police, elitist, et al.). Now abolitionists are being scolded and shamed into embracing welfarism and into allowing those who focus on animal treatment to co-opt the term "abolitionist" for themselves -- regardless of their political or ethical stances or of the nature of their hands-on advocacy. If you try to point out that they're different, according to Joy, you're obviously a bitter trouble-makers who's gobbling up the time of those who could otherwise be doing their tabling or starting Care2 petitions to stop Safeway from selling brown ducks on Tuesday mornings. I mean, how dare you?

Welfarists and abolitionists aren't just grumpy siblings sniping at each other in the back seat of a car while on summer vacation. There is no rift in one unified movement; we are two separate movements. Our differences goes far beyond being mere "diversity", but it seems that hammering that out by engaging in critical debates that would make this evident is "non-liberatory" and not in keeping with vegan principles. Joy claims that we need to be truth-seekers, but seems to want us to do so blindfolded. And if in their own truth-seeking, advocates around us do more harm than good to other animals, we should nonetheless "value" them for their truth-seeking-ness; instead of tapping them on the shoulder and suggesting that they're doing it wrong, we should give up on our own fixation on doing it "right".

According to Joy, judging another's actions is always "shaming" and shaming is non-liberatory (and thus goes against vegan principles). According to Joy, judging always involves bullying. (Critical thinking means less time for hugs?) Joy's investment in keeping us from stepping on each other's toes is preventing her from acknowledging that for each misstep one of my fellow advocates takes, there may be additional lives lost. It's not about us; it's about them. If I point out to you that spending all of your time trying to get non-vegans to sign a petition to convince a fast-food burger chain to only use eggs from chickens who have an extra three inches of room in the cages in which they spend their entire miserable short lives, I'm not doing it to hurt your feelings: I'm doing it because I'm thinking about those chickens and that the chickens in those cages would rather not be in those cages at all. It's not about us; it's about them.

What Now?

She's right that we have "much work to do". Some animal advocates educate the general public about veganism; other advocates choose to educate the public about not not buying shoes made of kangaroo leather from one specific company while not addressing that no leather from any animal should be purchased and that all animal exploitation is problematic. As an abolitionist and an ethical vegan who truly wants to see an end to speciesism and to the horrific cycle into which billions of other sentient beings are enslaved and slaughtered every single year, part of my work involves sometimes tapping the kangaroo shoe petitioner on the shoulder and suggesting that more could and should be done. If someone like Joy wants to insist that that my doing so somehow goes against vegan principles -- that it's "divisive", so be it. At the end of the day I'd still offer Joy a big ol' hug. Then I'd ask her to substantiate her claims and to give me an opportunity to refute them, because this is where real learning and understanding come from -- not from smiling and nodding and turning a blind eye to others' fumbling around us.