Food Justice: A Primer

Food Justice: A Primer, edited by Saryta Rodríguez condenses a wide-angle view of ethical considerations surrounding the production and distribution of food into a concise collection of essays that is richly informative and thoroughly persuasive. This 239-page paperback covers a large range of topics, historical and contemporary. Each section is united by the common thread of undertaking the study “through a vegan praxis.” In other words, viewing non-human animals as deserving the same rights and dignity as people, when identifying the problematics of agriculture and proposing solutions. But this perspective should not be misunderstood as a narrowly defined scope through which to examine the topic. Rather, it is necessarily at the core of the issue and this book’s focus brings that reality to the forefront.

As the arguments put forward in each of the pieces show, food justice is not just about food; it is interconnected with many areas of life, such as how we work, our attitudes toward others, and how we perceive the world around us and affect it with our actions (or inactions). An essay by Lilia Trenkova draws bold parallels between racism as a driving force behind colonialism and neo-colonialism and speciesism—the idea that humans are superior to other animals and by extension, all manner of cruelty may be excused—as the widely unchallenged belief responsible for the inhumane treatment of animals, including their use as food. These parallels follow through their resulting effects on inequitable food supply. Just as the mercantile practices of colonial and neo-colonial countries squeeze the economies and drain resources from less developed countries, the (mis)use of land for animal agriculture significantly reduces the maximum amount of food that can be produced, and applies upward pressure on prices, thereby artificially limiting resources and increasing food costs. In another essay, Saryta Rodríguez points to data that show that cows used for beef consume twenty-five times more food than they produce. Conditions for farm workers are also netted in this equation of systemic superiority, as Trenkova dissects how racist attitudes baked into the North American Free Trade Agreement created second tier system, where laborers in Mexico and immigrants in the U.S. are not afforded the same basic rights that many American workers take for granted.

Land use is also addressed in other contexts throughout. The book’s introduction briefly describes some notable land rights campaigns including the formation of Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) in 1984 and Palestine’s Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) in 1986. The UAWC is referenced as an example of a group that fights for food sovereignty, which is under the umbrella of food justice and pertains to a peoples’ ability to choose how their food is produced, distributed, and consumed. The MST is a movement that settled people to work on unused land and was able to make legal claims on much of that land through a part of Brazil’s constitution enshrining land as serving a public function.

Among the essays, the book also includes an interview by Saryta Rodríguez with Gustavo Oliviera, a spokesperson for Occupy the Farm, which comprised of a couple hundred activist farmers who took over an unused plot of land belonging to the University of California, Berkeley that had been slated for commercial development. It is an inspiring story of grass-roots direct action that demonstrates that anyone can take part in effecting change.

Rodríguez aptly curates an enormous depth of information and perspective in this slim volume making for a well-paced read that is small enough to carry on the go. After reading this compelling compendium, one cannot ignore that achieving food justice depends on recognizing that animal agriculture is unsustainable. Therefore, the notion that a complete and internally consistent understanding of food justice has as much to do with issues of equitable supply and distribution as workers’ rights and animal rights should not be a revolutionary one.


Dale Classen is a Brooklyn-based musician and sound designer. Dale performs with the band Grim All Day and lives with two cats, Sonny and Toad. He graduated from Stony Brook University with a B.A. in psychology.

Veganism, Degrowth and Redistribution

Bird subsumed in oil spill

By Marv Wheale

The Vegan Feminist Network is dedicated to scrutinizing the interconnections among speciesism, genderism, heterosexism, colonialism, racism, poverty, disablism, ageism, sizeism, ecocide…..  Today I would like to concisely examine some related elements that could exercise a role in overcoming these structures of subordination.

We know that veganism is the credible stance to take against the ideology and praxis of human  supremacy.  Yet when we practice and promote a vegan way of life within capitalism, veganism stands unopposed to the continuation of economic inequality, middle class values/lifestyles, the larger systems of animal use and ecological erosion (obviously vegans do mitigate these troubles to a limited extent).

Chicken corpses on conveyor belt

For veganism to succeed and not be isolationist it must be anti-capitalist and degrowth.  Though socialism may resolve economic class divisions, it’s emphasis on growing the economy puts a strain on ecosystems, nonhuman species habitats and climate (possibly as much as capitalist development).   Mining, industrial agriculture, intensive logging and fossil use are integral parts of many socialist agendas, except  the green kinds.  Perpetual production growth is a dead end for a liveable planet.

Compulsory societal wide frugal living is required for securing biosphere sustainability and enhancement.

We could call it “revolutionary simplicity”. But how do we end indigence with economic contraction?  Don’t the poor need growth to have a dignified life?  

Not in the conventional sense.  Improving employment, wages, living conditions, local vegan food production, education, public health and transportation and providing clean water don’t have the same devastating impacts on nature as aggregate expansion for private or government gain.

Free vegan food being offered at a Food Not Bombs tabling

Dispersing wealth evenly, vegan living, green energy, social housing, workers’ cooperatives, working less hours, men care-giving instead of worshipping porn and sports teams, cultivating talents, idle contemplation and revelry are types of progress that don’t ravage the earth and living beings like commercial extractivist societies do.

Redistribution, economic democracy,  animal/human animal equality, producing and consuming less, and post-growth economies would be powerful forms of intergroup solidarity and justice for all.

Veganist degrowth and redistribution is not a full-grown theory, plan of action or affiliation.  It is nonetheless worth exploring and perilous to dismiss.  Something nonvegan socialists and capitalists should adopt as well.   

SoaringFrigateBird

Dreamer?  Climate disruption, environmental despoliation, destitution and war may force us to take radical measures.  Now is the time to spread the conversation to raise consciousness to act for a nonviolent transition.

 


Marv is a moderator for the Vegan Feminist Network Facebook page.

Veganism, Vulnerable Women, and Organ Trafficking

In the Winter 2014 issue of Contexts, a magazine published by the American Sociological Association, Anne T. Gallagher reports that trafficking for organ removal is on the rise:

Trafficking of persons for organ removal is not an urban myth, but an increasingly common means by which the global shortage in organs is being met. Recipients are generally independently wealthy or are supported by their governments or private insurance companies. Victims are inevitably poor and from poorer countries, often unemployed and with low educational levels, which makes them vulnerable to deception about the nature of the transplant procedure and its potential impacts.

She furthers that many are forced to comply, are bribed or manipulated, and threatened into silence. Many become dangerously ill or die from complications from hastily performed procedures and inadequate (or absent) follow up care. Some are simply left to die with no intention of them surviving. Compensation promised is rarely paid in full, and is generally a tiny fraction of the promised price. Debt bondage or extortion often pressure individuals to “donate.” In many cases, organs are outright stolen.

Both men and women are victims of organ trafficking, but women tend to be especially vulnerable, as victims come from areas where women are still considered second-class citizens or property. Women are also more likely to be illiterate and have fewer opportunities and resources at hand. Sex trafficked women, not surprisingly, are especially vulnerable to organ trafficking as well. Just like other animals, women’s bodies are literally fragmented, butchered, bought and sold, and consumed by those with more power. Both women and other animals exist as (temporarily) living resources waiting to be harvested.

Veganism Diabetes Kidney Failure

Not surprisingly, this horrific industry is rooted in patriarchy. As diet-related diseases increase as a result of our growing consumption of other animals, the demand for organ transplants rises. Kidneys are one of the top organs in demand, and the primary reason for transplant is diabetes. Diabetes is one of many diseases directly related to a non-vegan diet. The masculinization of meat and the association of animal foods with wealth fuels this irrational demand.  Traditional plant-based (and feminized) diets become devalued and are quickly disappearing as Westernization spreads. Patriarchy not only influences the deterioration, but also the access to solutions. Not everyone enjoys equal access to a transplant. It is generally those in wealthier Western nations and usually men with this privilege.

In a previous essay, I discussed the ethical considerations behind organ donation as a vegan. I do not think it is appropriate to punish individuals who are suffering for systemic problems rooted in Western imperialism, patriarchy, and speciesism. I believe everyone should register as an organ donor, not only for the interests of the individuals in need, but also those animals (used as “donors” and in vivisection) and vulnerable humans who might be spared exploitation and death.

Kidney Scar

But it should not end there. Veganism is an ethical imperative for deconstructing these systems of oppression. While Westerners poison their organs with the death of Nonhuman Animals, poor women in India, Africa, and Asia suffer and die to replenish the bodies of the global rich. Of course, their poverty is also intimately linked with the West’s resource-intensive need to extort massive amounts of grain and water to funnel into livestock. The resulting pollution from this animal-industrial complex further weakens third world regions struggling to survive under the weight of colonialist and capitalist oppression. The consumption of other animals entails widespread global violence against all vulnerable groups for the pleasure, convenience, and privilege of a small few. Sadly, organ trafficking is but one of many cruel injustices bound to gross power imbalances. Anti-capitalist vegan feminism must be at the root of our activism. We must take an intersectional approach if we are to have any hope at success.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology and past Director of Gender Studies (2016-2018) with Monmouth University. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

Veganism and Natural Disasters in the Global South, How We Can Help

As the news reports the terrible death and destruction in the Philippines resulting from the worst storm ever recorded, I feel sick with worry.  As an environmental sociologist and a vegan researcher, I’m well aware that these storms are only going to worsen and become more common as global warming continues to influence catastrophic climate change. Researchers have already documented that natural disasters are on the rise and we have every reason to predict this trend will continue.

Filipino women cling to wreckage in rising waters.

Along with the heartache I feel from these news stories is an unavoidable annoyance with those who insist that global warming is not real, is a hoax, or is a “natural” event.  Indeed, about half of Americans, most of whom have been influenced by conservative interests, believe that global warming is not a human-made phenomenon.  This frustrates me to no end because it is our ignorance here in the West that is hurting those living in third world regions.  It’s easy for us to kick back and ignore the scientific consensus about global warming when we’re living privileged lives here in the West.  While natural disasters are also on the rise here, it is people (human and nonhuman) living in the Global South who are especially impacted.  These are regions are close to sea level with high coastal populations, weak infrastructures, agriculture-based/weather dependent undiversified economies, high levels of poverty, and pitiful few resources to cope with disaster.  When a major storm hits, it is more likely to hit one of these areas.  Due to centuries of colonization and capitalist exploitation, these are the very areas that are least able to survive them.

So where does veganism come in?  Research shows that Nonhuman Animal agriculture accounts for 51% or more of Greenhouse Gas emissions.  Many cultures living in the Global South have traditionally been plant-based, but increasingly, global capitalist pressures have pushed them into adopting Western diets and producing Nonhuman Animals and their feed.  The Global South is exploited as a producer of non-vegan products, a market for our non-vegan products, and a dumping ground for the pollution those products create.  The inevitable natural disasters that also burden these area are also tied to this globalized project of speciesism.

Many international governance bodies have begun to question the dangerous consequences of Nonhuman Animal agriculture, but many succumb to capitalist interests and suggest reform rather than abolition.  The capitalist system itself is inherently exploitative and will always create high levels of suffering, but if we insist on retaining this economic mode of production, we need to get realistic about animal-based food systems.  Reformed systems still allow for the 65+ billion (and growing) Nonhuman Animal deaths each year.  Reformed systems also allow for a litany of debilitating and deadly diet-related diseases, which disproportionately impact poor persons.  These reforms also allow for continued environmental destruction and global warming which hits the global poor the hardest.  If we want to curb this massive, global-scale suffering, we must prioritize veganism.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.