“Obsessive” Vegans: The Politics of Vegan Ableism

In the bid to become more effective activists, it is important to acknowledge differences in identity and access that characterize the Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s diverse constituency. Although recent publications such as Sunaura Taylor’s Beasts of Burden: Animal and Disability Liberation have drawn attention to the many compelling intersections between speciesism and ableism, it remains the case that the movement at large is insensitive to the experiences of non-able-bodied persons.

As I explored in a 2015 publication with Disability & Society, both the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and its countermovement engage in ableist frameworks to dismiss the legitimacy of one another’s position. For instance, speciesists regularly refer to liberationists as “crazy,” while liberationists have been known to employ labels of “sick” or “schizophrenic” in retaliation. Since publishing this article, I have noticed that “obsessiveness” is another identity under contention. As with “craziness” and “sickness,” “obsessiveness” becomes a flashpoint for both sides of the animal rights debate, while actual disabled persons are erased in the crossfire.

Problematizing mental illness resonates in an ableist society, and Nonhuman animal rights organizations too willingly adopt resonate frames regardless of the negative consequences for those whose identity is objectified. Vegan Outreach, the Humane Society of the United States, and other professionalized charities frequently chastise vegan liberationists for “obsessing” over animal ingredients in a self-centered effort to achieve “personal purity.” In doing so, they pull on social stigma against self-focused behaviors and anxiety disorders to shame radical contenders into silence, or at least to dismiss them as lesser-than in the movement hierarchy.

While it is unfortunate that Western society stigmatizes disability, it is truly shameful that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, a movement that purports to represent compassion and justice, should exploit ableism for its gain. When vegans call nonvegans “psycho” for consuming flesh to advance the movement, they trade on ableism. When nonprofits call vegan liberationists “obsessive” for finding fault in reformist approaches to speciesism, they are doing the same.

In other cases, OCD is trivialized in the pursuit of profit in a movement that has been co-opted by corporate interests. Take for instance the vegan makeup company Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics: “The first step is admitting you have a problem,” says company founder David Klasfeld, “I did and the result is a line obsessively crafted from the finest ingredients possible, to celebrate the driving compulsions of makeup fanatics everywhere.”

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not simply a qualifier to denote extremism or fanaticism. It is a real medical condition that impacts real people.  While level of severity varies and some individuals are able to live healthfully in an able-bodied world, the International OCD Foundation emphasizes that:

Those tortured with OCD are desperately trying to get away from paralyzing, unending anxiety…

I also wish to emphasize that ableism is a feminist issue. Anxiety disorders disproportionately impact women, a demographic that happens to be most receptive to anti-speciesist messages and dominates the movement’s rank-and-file. This predisposition to anxiety is not a biological happenstance. It is, in large part, a survival strategy that develops in response to strain within a patriarchal social structure.

Thus, vegans would do well to lend solidarity to stigmatized groups in forgoing inconsiderate ableist references to all things determined to be bad (“obsessive” vegans) and trivial (“obsessively” vegan makeup). Ableist claimsmaking is tactically impotent as it is bound to offend and alienate the disabled community that makes up a considerable portion of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s constituency.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with a New Jersey liberal arts college, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

whyveganism.com

In a Sexist World, a Horse’s Company is an Escape

horses-running

Many people go through a traumatic experience at least once in their life and they may also go through times where things get very hard. We are told that this is life and that life is supposed to be hard, but is it really supposed to be this difficult? Being a woman in a male dominated business is very difficult and often very stressful for me even though I am still in school. I choose a major and a career path that is heavily dominated by men, but women are slowly breaking down the barrier.

There have been many times where I feel like I’m being talked down to at work or I’m being talked to only because of my relationship with someone who is big at this company. There have been times where my boss and other co-workers have given me an extremely easy assignment because I am a woman but on the contrary, they have also given me nearly impossible assignments to make me feel like I can’t complete it. There are days where I feel like I should give up on my career choice to be an accountant and to pick something that is more welcoming to woman, but the only thing that stops me from changing my life is the company of my horses.

When people typically have a bad day at work they go home and relax on the couch; or they can go pay a therapist to listen to them talk about their day. When I have a bad day, I go to the horse farm to destress with the company of my horses. There is something about a horse that is relaxing to a person and can make their bad day turn into something positive by just being around a horse. I often get called the “crazy” horse girl by my friends, but anyone who has ever been around a horse before knows exactly what I am talking about.

horse-running
Some people would argue that the reason for having animals, such as horses is to use them for a specific purpose such as providing labor or transportation. Another thought is that we as humans exploit animals for our gain and we do so by using force (Luke 1996). While these things are sadly true, this is not the relationship that I have with my two horses. My horses get to enjoy being outside with other horses eating grass all day. They occasionally get brushed and then I give them their cookies, which they happen to love. My horses are not pets to me, they are my family and I need them in my life. I have a mutual relationship with my horses as they trust that I won’t let them get hurt and I trust that they won’t hurt me.

The relationship between a horse and a person is a powerful one that can help a person who has been struggling with personal difficulties. I have had my fair share of personal difficulties in my 21 years of life. I have never had anything extremely traumatic happen in my life but I have had things that have messed with my head before happen to me. Although I have lived a very good childhood, a few things recently hurt me and the only way I could cope with the issues that I was facing was by going to see my horses. Even if I could stop by for a couple of minutes to give them some treats I would because their presence helped to calm me down.

The recent issue that has been bothering me is that after 21 years of what I thought was a happy marriage, my parents announced to my siblings and I that they were in the process of getting a divorce (right before the holidays). I felt that my whole childhood and my life was a complete lie because they said that they have been having issues for years. I wouldn’t talk to anyone, not my mom, my dad, or even my two siblings. I would get angry and get loud, but then I would immediately start crying afterwards because the only life I knew was crashing down out a nowhere.

I never thought that I would be a result of divorced parents, even though the United States is #3 in divorce rates. To be honest, none of the divorce risk factors have affected my parents as they were in their late twenties when they got married, so they didn’t get married young, and neither one of them have divorced parents. They also knew each other for a while before they got married. Divorce seems to affect women more than the men because the women are typically older women, who are housewives or have been housewives for many years and are reentering the labor force after a long absence. Although divorce has become more common and more acceptable over the years in the United States, it is still shocking to me that this is happening.

My escape from the things that were happening in my life was my horses and just being around them helped. They are both complete opposites in personality and in appearance. Marshall is a big bay, with a gorgeous glistening coat, whereas Yankee is of a shorter and stockier build, who is grey (white) with flea-bitten spots, which look like brown freckles all over his body. Yankee will stand over me if I’m sitting in the grass crying as to almost be the therapist that listens to my problems, but obviously cannot give any input. Marshall is the horse that gets my mind off things because he is goofy and will head butt me if I’m trying to hug him to try to cheer me up.

horse-and-woman

Some people don’t believe that animals know when something is wrong, but I can say that my horses know when something isn’t right; it’s like animals have a sixth sense. If you ever need to get your mind off things or need a break from reality, see if you could go to a local barn to just be around the horses. There are even non-profit programs geared towards helping disabled people and veterans with PTSD. So, if a therapist isn’t in the cards, go pet a horse, I promise it will make you feel much happier.

References:
Brian Luke. 2007. Brutal: Manhood and the Exploitation of Animals. UI Press.
 


rebeccaRebecca Hila is currently a junior at Monmouth University. She is majoring in Business with a concentration in Accounting and a minor in Criminal Justice. She has been an avid animal and horse lover since she was a little girl. Although she spends a lot of time indoors due to her choice of study, she loves spending as must time outside as she can especially in the spring and fall.

whyveganism.com

Is Veganism Ableist? A Disabled Vegan Perspective

Photo of myself in my motorized wheelchair, Betty. It am outdoors on a sunny day at the piers in New York City. I am dressed colorfully with colorful striped socks, black combat boots and capris and a red t-shirt that reads “The Revolution Is Wheelchair Accessible.”

Disability is just another way for a mind and/or body to be. We are not broken.

Author’s Note: While I am still vegan, it’s been over a year that my primary focus (for many reasons) as an activist is no longer animal rights/liberation. As a disabled person, I remain intersectional in my support, but my focus is now disability rights. Since this change, I have heard of many instances of disabled people who experienced ableism from the AR community. While this was certainly not news to me, as I too have experienced this, I want to address the following question from the disabled vegan perspective: is veganism ableist?

By Michele Kaplan

Every time I delve deeper into the disabled twitter-sphere, without fail I come across tweets from the disability community talking about how ableist vegans are. Vegans calling a disabled person a liar when they state that they can not be vegan due to their disability. Vegans telling disabled folk that if they just ate a healthy whole food vegan diet, they would be “cured”. As if said vegans were actual doctors that specialized in that specific disability, and thus were properly educated regarding any possible treatment options (including medications). As if one size fits all and the vegan diet was a solution for every medical situation. As if by default, disability made a person “broken” and in need of fixing / being cured.

And as a disabled vegan, I often find myself between these two worlds. I cringe and facepalm when I read these tweets, as I try to do damage control: ‘Hey. I’m a disabled vegan and I just wanted to say that I am really sorry you experienced ableism from the vegan community. That is not cool’, in hopes of creating some sense of healing.

So, is ableism a problem within the vegan community? Absolutely. There are intersectional animal rights activists who have solidarity and who get it, but there are also activists who identify as intersectional, but miss the mark on ableism. There are also single issue animal rights activists who don’t even know the word ableism or who do, but don’t care because (to them) the only cause that matters is animal rights, which is just as problematic as it sounds.

Anyone who is involved in activism knows that single issue and faux intersectional activism, by default is indisputably problematic. However, it is only fair to note that Ableism is certainly not just an “animal rights thing”, since Ableism occurs in any cause where the activism is based on an able bodied model and/or the cause fails to acknowledge the existence of disability.

So, is veganism ableist? This is why I say no. Veganism at it’s root is a philosophy, an idea that the animals don’t exist for us. Just as a disabled person, I don’t exist to be someone’s inspiration nor target of pity, animals do not exist to be our meals and clothing. They have their own lives and exist for themselves. This may not be the mainstream way of thinking, but as with all forms of oppression, just because someone decided that a particular demographic is inferior, doesn’t make it true nor does it justify the oppression.

photo of Esther, The Wonder Pig who is napping with a highly content grin on her face.

It’s complicated because often vegans will come across people who say “Oh, I could never go vegan. I love cheese (bacon etc.) too much and I could never give that up.” This of course, is not a factual statement, as it is not oxygen in which their life depends on. So technically they could give it up. They just choose not to, which is different from the disabled person who due to their disability / chronic illness, may not have the choice. There are some vegans who fail to make note of the difference, who are unaware that the difference even exists. It’s as if they hear both answers and their bullshit meter immediately goes off, not realizing that the latter is actually valid.

Some vegans might argue: but what if the disabled person in question, is just using their disability as an excuse to not go vegan? This is incredibly harmful and triggering and so as a disabled vegan, I say: believe them every single damn time. I would rather let that one hypothetical person, that 1 out of 10,000 (assuming they even exist) “off the hook”, then give the remaining 9,999 people yet more crap to deal with. Disabled people often experience social and systemic ableism on a daily basis. The last thing the community needs is further discrimination.

It’s also complicated because there is this idea in the animal rights community, that there is no such thing as a half or partial vegan. You either do it 100% hardcore or you can not claim the label. And if you can’t call yourself vegan, then you are deemed as an unethical and a lousy human being. This in itself is ableist because if a person is legitimately not able to go the 100%, then they shouldn’t be shamed for that.

a model is hugging a variety of vegetables and holding them close to her chest. she is grinning and looking to the right

It’s also complicated because in truth, no one is 100% vegan. When I go to the market to get vegan food, I go to a market that has a whole section dedicated to meat, eggs and dairy. Therefore, I am essentially, though indirectly, financially supporting a business that profits from the animal agriculture industry. When I use a grocery delivery service (as due to my disability, I can not always make it to the store), they bag the groceries in plastic bags which (and I kid you not) contain additives that are derived from animals. My point being, that the system in it’s current state, makes it impossible to do zero harm and thus there is no such thing as the perfect vegan.

Veganism is thus about doing the least harm and the most good. And so if one can not go fully vegan due to their health and/or disability, it becomes a matter of doing what they can. Consider eating less meat. Not an option? Considering drinking a non-dairy “milk” (soy, rice, almond, oats, coconut etc.) instead of buying dairy milk. Or if changing ones diet is not an option, then consider purchasing products for your home and body that are not tested on animals, if not totally vegan. One can choose to buy clothing made from synthetic material instead of animal skins such as leather, fur and suede. If you already own a leather coat, as an example, and can not afford to buy a new synthetic one, then wear the coat but do less harm in other ways. My point being, it’s about doing what you can. It doesn’t matter if this doesn’t “qualify” you to accurately identify as vegan. It’s better to do some good and less harm than nothing at all.

photo is of the earth, a view from space.

And do keep in mind that this goes beyond the animals. There are mainstream scientific studies that show that the animal agriculture industry is one of the largest contributors to climate change. This is big, considering since climate change is an issue that directly impacts us all, but particularly people who are poor and/or the disabled population. After all, who is often left stranded during and after a major storm (such as a hurricane)?

Or even just the impact of climate change on every day weather. Climate change is being linked to the increase in heat advisories which prevent people (like myself) who are medically sensitive to the heat, from leaving their home. I am vegan for many reasons, but one of them being is that I do not do well with being stuck in my apartment for a week. When I do my best to not support the animal agriculture industry, I lessen climate change, and thus I lessen the physical isolation that I experience, which impacts my well being.

That being said, the intention of this article, is not trying to tell people what to do nor demand change. I just wanted to address the question of “is veganism ableist?” as a disabled vegan and present you with the information from that perspective. Because in the end, it is never … ever okay when a vegan (or anyone) is ableist (or any other form of discrimination), but that doesn’t make veganism (or a variation of), a bad idea.

 

This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox on September 6, 2016.


me in wheelchairMichele Kaplan is a queer (read: bisexual), geek-proud, intersectional activist on wheels (read: motorized wheelchair), who tries to strike a balance between activism, creativity and self care, while trying to change the world.

whyveganism.com

Am I Still Vegan?

By Michele Kaplan

Image by Claudia Hafner Watercolor

Image by Claudia Hafner Watercolor

There was a period in my life
where I devoted
My heart. My soul. My time.
Passionate. Vegan. To Animal Rights.
I would stand there in the freezing cold, some winter nights.
bundled up like I was going on an arctic expedition
with my activist family by my side
What do we want? Animal Liberation! When do we want it? NOW!
all with my camera, raised fist or a protest sign,
#ForTheAnimals! #ForTheEarth! #ForTheMovement!

and then. my wheelchair. stopped.
working
and no longer was I able to attend,
the many and various AR events.
And because sometimes shit happens consecutively,
my physical health also went sploot.

*sploosh*
It all began to unravel.

I began to share less and less vegan articles on social media
because I just lacked the energy to engage
in the sometimes defensive and hostile conversations, as I tried to explain.
why veganism

I began to share less Animal Liberation events
because I was already feeling isolated from not being able to attend,
because I lacked the heart space required to further face isolation.
backlash. that can occur from advocating
for a cause that goes against the norm.

No more energy to give
to the long draining internet conversations
with the single issue activists
who felt that veganism gave them some sort of free pass!
to discriminate.

No energy for the long draining internet conversations
for the activists who cried out
“vegan apologist!!” “sellout!”, accusing me of distracting from the cause.
for when I told them that it didn’t.

No more energy to write the intersectional articles in response,
desperate to do damage control because what. if. someone
outside of the movement
read this (what they posted) and thought
THIS represents the movement as. a. whole!
That this deters them from going vegan!
Oh no! Quick! We have to do… something!
#ForTheAnimals! #ForTheEarth! #ForTheMovement!
No more energy to spare for the urgency.
No more energy to spare…

No energy to spare for the anger in the movement,
lacking mindfulness, driven by ego rather than the cause.
No energy, not even for the intersectional anger, driven by compassion.
No energy to spare to be angry.
There was no energy to spare…

And when people would turn and say to me (almost demanding)
“Go ahead. Convince me. Why should I go vegan” (as you have done before)
a voice in my heart and head would cry out
“I don’t fucking care if you go vegan!!”
I am overwhelmed. I am drained. Thirsty soul.
I am just trying to survive.
get though this.
I have nothing to give.

And as time went on, and I became
isolated from the community
(which I say without resentment.
For this is the nature of the activist family.
The cause is the glue)
I began to rethink my devotion
Once married to the cause, I had no choice but to now map out:
Just who am I (when I’m not the hardcore animal rights activist, taking photos at the events)?

Quiet and aching from the times,
searching for a sense of community.
I began to rediscover a life beyond the movement.
And because the majority of people who stood by me during this time,
happened to be the folks I knew before I went vegan.
I began to question ideas of compassion
I began to question ideas of priority
Just what is important to me in this life?
And what is worth my devotion?

But if this was in question.
Yes.
I am still vegan.
#ForTheAnimals. #ForTheEarth.

 

Author’s Note:

This poem is in no way putting down or trying to get people to not get involved in the AR movement. Like any activist movement in society, there are problems within the movement. This is not an animal rights thing. There are issues of privilege. But there is also a growing intersectional side to animal rights. This poem wrote was written in regard to my experience. It’s not to say that I will never return to the movement. I probably will. Activism is a part of me. But it talks about defining veganism for yourself. Not in the sense that you occasionally eat vegan food but still call yourself vegan, but in regard to the idea that a “real” or true vegan is out there in the streets, fighting for the animals but sometimes that’s just not an option. And that doesn’t mean one should stop being vegan, because veganism is not about a human run movement. It’s about the animals and the earth.

This is also not to suggest that no one in the AR movement stood by me. While there is a difference between activist friends and friends, I have made good fiends in the movement as well.

 

This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox on May 17, 2015.


me in wheelchairMichele Kaplan is a queer (read: bisexual), geek-proud, intersectional activist on wheels (read: motorized wheelchair), who tries to strike a balance between activism, creativity and self care, while trying to change the world.

whyveganism.com

How Farmers are Making Dairies Sexy for Men’s Health

Young white woman naked in a wheel barrow; she is covered in hay and wearing very large pump red heels

Macra na Feirme, a farmer’s association in Ireland, is creating a pornographic calendar to raise awareness about mental health problems and suicide in the farming community, particularly that of young men.

This project is gendered, as pornography predominantly involves the display of women’s bodies, while farming is masculinized. Women are the objects on display, while men are the subjects of concern.

Advertisement for Macra; A pair of legs and the top of a skirt is visible, a woman is sitting on a bail of hay in high heels

Calendar sales will go to the mental health non-profit Walk In My Shoes

What is interesting is that the campaign seeks to challenge unrealistic masculine gender roles (which discourage boys and men with depression from seeking help or admitting weakness), and yet those same roles are protected by framing the campaign in clear scripts of patriarchal dominance.

Importantly, the centering of men’s experiences also makes invisible the multitude of research that shows clear correlations between the sexual objectification of women and women’s higher rates of depression, anxiety, and self-harm, as well as lower rates of self image and self efficacy.

But more is going on in these images–we’re also seeing the romanticization and sexualization of speciesism. In one image, the Rose of Kilkenny (Ireland’s version of Miss America), poses seductively with a milking device. An instrument of torture for the Nonhuman Animals involved, but a very naturalized symbol of power, domination, and the pleasurable consumption of the female body for humans who interpret the image.

Woman in red high heels with legs exposed holds a milking device in the middle of a dairy, with the back ends of cows lined up on the machines visible in the background

What’s also made invisible is the relationship between mental health and participation in systemic violence against the vulnerable. Yes, the campaign seeks to bring attention to the emotional challenges associated with farming, but no connection is being made to the relationship between hurting others and the hurt one experiences themselves. Slaughterhouse workers, for instance, are seriously psychologically impacted by the killing and butchering they must engage. Dairy workers, too, are paying a psychological price for their participation. This isn’t just about “farming” in general, this is about speciesist practices in particular. Speciesism hurts us all: Nonhuman Animals in particular, male farmers as a consequence, and women who are objectified and hurt in a society where the exploitation of feminized vulnerable groups is normalized.

Indeed, I find it interesting that, for women who want to participate in a social movement, the “go to” response is so often to get naked or make pornography. It is a powerful statement about the gender hierarchy in our society and the limited and often disempowering choices available to women. Ultimately, it speaks to a considerable limitation on our social justice imagination.

 

Thank you to our Hungarian contributor Eszter Kalóczkai for bringing attention to this story.


Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is a Lecturer of Sociology with Monmouth University, a part-time Instructor of Sociology and Ph.D. candidate with Colorado State University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded the 2016 Exemplary Diversity Scholar by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (2015, Palgrave Macmillan).

Psychological Abuse in Animal Rights Advocacy

Man yelling into bullhorn at a protest

By Pooja Umbra

Since being diagnosed with an auto-immune neurological disorder and a mental illness as a vegan, I have been putting a lot of thought into the kind of vegan advocacy that can be categorized as psychologically abusive. I have myself partaken in this type of advocacy and I write this using my newly-acquired self-awareness and insight into psychological issues.

I’d like to state on record that I am not a mental health professional. I am articulating this as someone who has experienced psychological abuse from my early childhood and as someone who’s learning to tell the difference between emotionally healthy and unhealthy behaviors.

So what exactly is psychological abuse?

Psychological abuse, also referred to as emotional abuse or mental abuse, is a form of abuse characterized by a person subjecting or exposing another to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxietychronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

It encompasses a wide range of behaviors such as, verbal aggression/ assault, domination, emotional blackmail, invalidation, gaslighting and blaming, among others.

Emotionally abusive behaviors by activists or any reminders of past emotional trauma can have debilitating consequences for survivors. Using guilt and shame for AR advocacy with the objective of elevating people’s consciousness to the plight of non-human animals may sometimes yield positive results, but it may also at times make survivors of emotional abuse relive the trauma of the past, feed their suicidal ideation, strengthen their ‘inner critic’, deepen their toxic shame, make the management of their illness difficult, or severely hamper their chances of recovery. Much has been written about certain damaging types of animal rights (AR) advocacy that is triggering to victims/survivors of violent crime such as rape. It is not much different for survivors of emotional trauma. Many in the AR movement, regrettably, still don’t see this as something to be rectified because of their anything goes approach to AR advocacy.

Before AR activists scream, ‘Meat is murder’ or tell non-vegans that they’re contributing to the death of shelter animals by purchasing animals from breeders, they need to stop and evaluate what they want to accomplish and why they’re using the kind of emotionally manipulative/ verbally aggressive approach that usually alienates people with mental disabilities and/or those with a history of trauma. Activists are better off using non-abusive approaches that don’t open up the emotional wounds of others. Furthermore, such non-abusive approaches are more likely to help non-human animals. Abusive tactics only serve to make abusers feel good by feeding off of the humiliation of others. It is self-serving and short-sighted. AR activists with able-minded and able-bodied privileges, as allies to non-human animals, need to recognize the imbalance of power between them and those with disabilities, and tailor their advocacy to be more compassionate.

Emotionality is an asset for bringing about lasting social change, but there is a difference between using corrosive tactics like guilt and shame, and encouraging self-reflection and accountability. All humans oppress non-human animals wittingly or unwittingly, to varying degrees. As those belonging to the oppressor group, we need to have more humility in our activism.

 


PoojaPooja Umbra is a multi-lingual vegan feminist from Bangalore who is fluent in four languages and semi-proficient in two others. She is a qualified accountant, though is currently on a break. She currently devotes her time to looking after her twelve and a half year old dog and to self- care.