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.

Vegans Must Watch Pornography

Content Warning/Not Safe for Work: Some description of violent pornography.

Movie poster for "Hot Girls Wanted." Girl curled up on a hotel bed, wearing only underwear and children's stockings to the knee. She is hiding her face.

By Professor Corey Lee Wrenn

I finally had the opportunity (and courage) to watch the new documentary, Hot Girls Wanted this afternoon. It is about the exploitation of teen girls in America in an industry that is known as “amateur porn” (a form of legal prostitution and sex trafficking). The film follows the short careers of some of these girls (I call them girls consciously because they are just barely out of childhood and it is this immaturity that is specifically exploited), documenting their experiences through their own words. Though the liberal position on pornography is that it is a “live and let live,” “freely chosen,” form of “employment,” the film really forces us to question how we can apply these neutralizing descriptions to what is essentially the highly violent, degrading, poorly paid, and high-risk exploitation of teenagers.

It is a form of employment that hurts, lacks protection, and is devoid of security or benefits. The average career is only a few months, and girls have to pay to play. After paying rent to their pimp (or “agent”) and purchasing lingerie, hair and nails, STD testing, Plan-B emergency contraceptives, trips to the emergency room, etc., there is almost nothing left. What this means is that earning a living in this “industry” is impossible for most (girls and women that is, as men profit considerably). As the girls become “spent” in the industry and the returns dry up, they must resort to increasingly dangerous sex acts to remain in the game.

While the idea of true consent existing in this industry is always suspect, sometimes the girls who “choose” to do particular scenes change their minds once the abuse begins, but they are either too pressured or frightened to say “no.” The power differential between impoverished teenage girls and older male business owners and bosses, while already significant, is amplified considerably when sex, cameras, and contracts are involved.

The film does not contain as much disturbing imagery as does The Price of Pleasure, but it did share a number of scenes “starring” (a euphemism) some of the girls in the documentary, which, for all intents and purposes, appear to depict violent rape and assault. New to me, there is an increasingly popular theme in pornography known as “facial abuse.” In this genre, a teenager’s mouth is penetrated so violently while her head is beaten and yanked about that she will cry and throw up. Sometimes she is forced to eat the vomit on her hands and knees. All the while she is demeaned with misogynistic insults.

There are hundreds of films like this. One such scene included in the film featured a college student who introduced herself as a student majoring in feminist studies so that the male audience could masturbate to the fantasy of raping a woman back into her place and brutalizing her as punishment for advocating for liberation and peace. In addition to being gagged with a forced blow job, she is choked and slammed–screaming–into the floor.

The skyrocketing level of violence in pornography is no accident. As in many “free market” capitalist enterprises, there is a no holds barred race to the bottom, and the vulnerable pay the price.

The parallels between the treatment of vulnerable women in our society and the treatment of other animals cannot be denied. One of the girls in the documentary even points this out herself, explaining that she and others in the industry are treated like “meat.”  This is why vegans must “watch” pornography. We must keep an eye on its influence, its role in society, and its ability to shape human attitudes and behaviors.

In a world where we excuse this type of behavior against women as “normal” and even “natural,” in a world where approximately 80% of men tune into pornography such as that described here on a regular basis, we cannot expect anyone to take seriously the violence against Nonhuman Animals for pleasurable consumption. Veganism can never succeed in a pornified world. Pornography must be on our radar because pornography is the script of oppression. Any vegan worth their weight in salt must take issue with the status of women. At the root of it all is the neoliberal infiltration of society, the capitalist bottom-line. It is a structure that puts all vulnerable, feminized bodies in peril.

 


Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is a part-time instructor of Sociology and graduate student at Colorado State University, a full-time Lecturer of Sociology with Monmouth University, a 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. In 2015, she was awarded 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.

PETA’s Sexy Pregnancy Campaign Against SeaWorld

By Corey Lee Wrenn, M.S., A.B.D. Ph.D.

Trigger Warning: Discusses pornography and the sexual exploitation of pregnant women.

Not Safe For Work: Contains discussion of pornography and erotic imagery.

Anti-Seaworld ad by PETA featuring Marisa Miller, a young white woman, nude and pregnant in a bathtub covering her breasts with her arms and looking at the camera from below

Supermodel Marisa Miller, widely regarded as a “sex symbol” for her work with Victoria’s Secret, Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issues, and Maxim, has posed nude while pregnant for PETA’s SeaWorld ad campaign.

Because the media space is so saturated with sexualized images, pornographers consistently seek to push the edge with more and more taboo or sensational sexualizations.This means that children will be sexualized, grandmothers will be sexualized, pregnant women will be sexualized, etc. This is not to say that children, grandmothers, and pregnant women can’t or don’t feel sexual or enjoy sexual agency–the point is that pornography tries to encroach into spaces where women and girls are traditionally honored and protected from being viewed as a sexual resource to men as a marketing ploy. It is the taboo that sets them apart and sells product. Of course, with, many pornographers taking this route, what was once “taboo” is now accepted and normalized.

PETA protest against Seaworld float in Macy's Parade. Two nude women with body paint like orcas sit in a bathtub holding a sign, "Could you live in your bathtub? Boycott Seaworld!"

PETA also takes a more “traditional” approach in its Seaworld campaign by featuring nude women in public protest who do not appear to be pregnant.

There is definitely a connection between SeaWorld’s imprisoned whales and women in PETA’s ads, but it is not the connection PETA hopes we will decipher: vulnerable demographics are exploited for gain, and this exploitation is seen as entertainment.

We, the viewer, are invited to feel good by consuming, to feel good by gazing at a naked woman and then (maybe) donating to PETA, and to feel good by gazing at a trapped whale and paying admission and buying stuffed Shamus. More importantly, we see it as something the participants “enjoy” doing, and we are discouraged from thinking about the ugliness that lies behind the scenes. In all likelihood, Miller probably did enjoy it, being a supermodel is a career for her. However, we should consider how pornography hurts vulnerable women who do not have the same privilege and access available to wealthy white women. It is important to acknowledge how capitalist framing can obscure the exploitation involved with consumption with imagery of choice, independence, individualism, enjoyment, pleasure, and other good feelings.  SeaWorld uses the same rhetoric to justify the imprisonment of their whales: they love what they do. They’re enjoying themselves, so sit back and enjoy the show.

While lacking a feminist critique, Jezebel covers the campaign and admits similar confusion:

A pregnant Miller chilling in a tub makes me think SeaWorld is a place where pregnant Orcas chill in tubs. While that’s by no means a great life for an orca, it’s not exactly the right message.

Clawfoot bathtub with orca reclining inside, a baby orca is diving into her belly

Image from Jezebel

But maybe the image isn’t meant to be a metaphor at all. Maybe it’s just a continuation of PETA’s long-used tactic of stripping celebrities down as a way of titillating their audience into some kind of low-level version of awareness.

OK, fine. It’s probably that. But it’s still a crappy ad.

Indeed, the level of awareness is quite low. Social psychological research demonstrates that using sex to “sell” ethics backfires. Protest observers actually find the degradation of women to be a serious turn-off. Outside of social movements, research also finds that “sexy” advertising can distract an audience to the point where they don’t even know what was being sold to them.

 

Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is an instructor of Sociology and graduate student at 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. In 2015, she was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity.

LUSH Cosmetics: Kind(ish) to Animals, Not to Women

By Corey Lee Wrenn, M.S., A.B.D. Ph.D.

Lush Not Vegan

LUSH Cosmetics is known for its handmade and largely cruelty-free bath and beauty products. While not a vegan company, LUSH has expanded into the realm of Nonhuman Animal rights advocacy. Under its “Fight Animal Testing” campaign, for instance, LUSH has been pressuring governments to end vivisection, even offering a large cash reward to anyone who can develop a solution.

While a concentrated effort to improve the condition of Nonhuman Animals is commendable, LUSH unfortunately replicates many of the harmful, misogynistic tactics favored by full-time animal rights organizations like PETA. Offering some vegan products in its stores and getting active to end some forms of Nonhuman Animal exploitation is obviously a good thing, but the damage LUSH could be doing to women is alarming.

Take, for example, its anti-vivisection street demonstration that featured a young woman in a nude body suit enduring graphic reenactments of torture at the hands of a male “researcher” for ten hours. The woman was dragged about by a rope tied to her neck, forcibly pushed into various positions, and force-fed. She was pulled by her hair, injected with saline needles, and her head was shaved. While the woman was a consenting professional performer, the pain she endured was clearly real. This event took place in a store window and was fully visible to the public.

lush cosmetics animal testing controversy

The use of a female actor was no coincidence. LUSH explains:

“We felt it was important, strong, well and thoroughly considered that the test subject was a woman. This is important within the context of Lush’s wider Fighting Animal Testing campaign, which challenges consumers of cosmetics to feel, to think and to demand that the cosmetics industry is animal cruelty free.  It is also important in the context Jacqui’s performance practice:  a public art intervention about the nature of power and abuse.  It would have been disingenuous at best to have pretended that a male subject could represent such systemic abuse.”

LUSH intentionally chose a female actor to endure 10 hours of torture in a public space to, in so many words, teach women a lesson. Incidentally, products marketed to women are much more likely to be free of animal testing, unlike men’s products. The next time you are in a store that sells toiletry items, check the packaging of men’s products. How many are cruelty-free? You will be hard pressed to find any. Furthermore, most animal testers, farmers, and slaughterhouse workers are men. Men are more likely to hunt and men consume more Nonhuman Animal products than women. It’s even men who are buying animal hair coats, as the ability to adorn women with “fur” acts a male status symbol. Is it really so disingenuous to question men’s role in the systemic exploitation of animals?

The truth is that women are easy targets. Women are LUSH’s primary customers, and I suspect that LUSH is hoping to frighten women into choosing LUSH products over its competitors. LUSH is drawing on and aggravating the reality of male-on-female violence to secure sales.

LUSH has hosted many similarly problematic promotional stunts. For instance, one anti-vivisection demonstration featured bound women on their knees lined up outside the store with their mouths taped over. A woman dressed as a scientist (drawing on male imagery) loomed beside them. At another store, female employees were dressed as foxes and coquettishly arched their backs, smiling as a man threateningly hovered over them with a kitchen knife.

White woman covered from head to toe in red paint wearing only underwear laying in the center of a Canadian flag as though she was dead in front of a LUSH store

Nonhuman Animal rights organizations frequently use a woman’s body that has been sexualized in some way to represent an abused, tortured, or dead victim. The intentional conflation of sex and violence is particularly problematic.

One store featured a 24 hour storefront display of an anguished woman in a leg-hold trap. In another, a woman was suspended by hooks inserted through the skin in her back to protest shark fishing. In a French store, a woman dressed as a rabbit cried out in anguish as her “fur” was peeled away, displaying her raw flesh below. Her naked body had been painted to resemble bloodied muscles.

LUSH is not afraid to use nudity, either. Protesting oil dependency, naked store employees wore mock oil barrel signs that cheekily read, “Time for an oil change or we’ll lose it all.” In one worldwide event, LUSH employees (who are mostly female) were paraded outside the store wearing nothing but aprons and high heels to hand out leaflets announcing LUSH’s “reduced packaging.” For some stores, aprons read: “Ask me why I’m naked.” Encouraging nude female employees to approach gazing men with LUSH leaflets is unsettling. But, handing out soon-to-be-trashed leaflets to men who are probably not in the market for bathbombs to advertise reduced packaging is just confusing. What’s the real objective here?

White woman wearing barrel sign, nude underneath in LUSH store

Entering a LUSH store is a magical experience, I can’t deny that. Stores are fragrant and colorful, and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. I love having more than one vegan product to choose from (although I’m still confused as to why LUSH refuses to go completely vegan). I actually wore Karma perfume for 6 years, but I can no longer shop with LUSH (I switched to Pacifica, which is 100% vegan and does not demean its female employees). I also informed my friends to find alternatives to the LUSH gift certificates I often receive.

It is clear to me that LUSH is exploiting the victimization and sexual objectification of women for profit. If LUSH is sincerely expecting these stunts to combat oppression, it might consider that aggravating normalized violence against women is counterintuitive to a campaign hoping to end violence against Nonhuman Animals. A message of peace and justice cannot be clearly articulated through oppressive actions.

There are many completely vegan and genuinely cruelty-free companies selling natural, hand-made cosmetic products that don’t throw women under the bus “for the cause” (or for the company). When (and if) LUSH decides to grant the same respect to women as it purports to grant to Nonhuman Animals, perhaps I’ll be smelling of orange blossom and patchouli again one day. In the meantime, I’m shopping elsewhere.

 

 

Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology with Monmouth 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 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.

The $29.00 Vegan Poverty Challenge: Classism, Patriarchy and Animal Rights

By Dr. C. Michele Martindill

Let’s play the Gwyneth Paltrow Game, the ultimate food challenge! In this game each one of us has exactly $29.00 to spend on our food for one week and by playing the game we should all learn what it means to live in poverty—at least that’s what we’re supposed to learn according to the #FoodBankNYCChallenge. This $29.00 a week food challenge involves celebrities tagging each other in a game to try and subsist on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) weekly food budget of those living in poverty in the United States. Chef Mario Batali challenged Hollywood personality Gwyneth Paltrow and in turn, sparked a global…well, national…discussion about many things, but not poverty. As observed in numerous online Facebook chats, not even vegan feminist abolitionists could resist this game. How does it work, you ask? In accepting the challenge, Paltrow agreed for one week to eat only what she could purchase with $29.00 and made her purchases public news–one dozen eggs, lettuce, dried black beans, frozen peas, an onion, parsley, a sweet potato, green onions, brown rice, some garlic, a single tomato, one ear of corn, soft tortillas, one chili pepper and seven limes. NOTE: Paltrow confessed she only lasted four days before feasting on “…chicken and fresh vegetables (and in full transparency, half a bag of black licorice)” (Johnson, 2015). That’s the definition of privilege—knowing all along she didn’t really have to stick with the budget.

Family playing board game

Family playing board game and learning lessons of life.

So, how much have people who followed this story and discussed Paltrow’s shopping trip haul learned about poverty? What are members of the vegan feminist abolitionist movement taking away from the latest Paltrow media frenzy? Here is an opportunity to think reflexively about the white, classist and masculinized privilege that permeates the vegan abolitionist movement, to decenter the vegan perspective and achieve some kind of empathic understanding for those most affected by poverty—women and children.

Before looking at the vegan response to the Paltrow food budget, it is necessary to provide some context for the story. At least twice in the last week vegan abolitionist organizations made disparaging remarks about people looking for jobs in their organizations, and they were ostensibly referring to poor people or the working poor—the very people who don’t see a $29.00 food budget as a game. One author elaborated on why no one should donate to groups requesting help with vegan education and no one should expect to find work in the vegan abolitionist community:

So many ‘advocates’ are attempting to solicit donations to help with vegan education. If you have any spare cash you wish to donate to a worthy cause, please send it to where it will be used to directly help the underprivileged rather than to fund the business or living expenses of organisations or individuals involved in such activities. A conflict of interests–between wanting to end animal use and profiting from attempting to persuade others to end their participation in animal use–is inevitable when donations are needed to indirectly support work of this nature and there is something rather distasteful about those arrogant enough to hold the opinion that their ‘work’ is so valuable that others should provide the means to undertake it. (Grumpy Old Vegans, 2015)

The author is correct in recommending potential donors take care in knowing how their contributions will be used. It is also entirely possible that the author is warning people that vegan organizations should resist the pull of becoming large capitalist corporations with high salaried staff and executives who do little to stop animal exploitation, but do provide padded salaries to executives (Ritzer, 1975). One message is clear: there is no way to both end animal use and profit from the donations of supporters. As Corey Wrenn pointed out in an essay (Wrenn, 2015), there is no way to end animal oppression through capitalism when it is capitalism that is responsible for the oppression in the first place. Still, the language of the above rejoinder was not specifically anti-capitalist and sends a different message to those who might be looking for work just to survive, to be able to feed their families on something more than $29.00 per person per week. Someone could easily understand the author to mean that it is “distasteful” and “arrogant” for anyone—even someone living in poverty—to think their work is valuable enough to deserve a living wage. It was the first, but not last, vegan missive this week to demonstrate how much the vegan abolitionist movement needs to learn about living in poverty.

Women looking for job at job fair

Another statement made by a different vegan abolitionist organization correctly establishes how the animal rights movement loses momentum when organizations try to stand out from the crowd and make names for themselves by embracing single issue campaigns or doing other things just to garner donations. This group takes a stumble, though, when it presents the following:

Unfortunately, the problem can extend beyond the organizational level. It can threaten our movement even at the grass roots. Individual would-be advocates sometimes become more focused on carving out an activist identity and brand for themselves than on sincerely contributing to a movement focused on nonviolent abolitionist vegan education. Their motivating question switches from “How can I use my skills and opportunities to bring about a world where humans treat animals and each other with respect?” to “How can I differentiate myself from my fellow advocates?” Often due to a simple need for attention and acknowledgment (and, troublingly, sometimes due to the hope of a job, money, or future speaking opportunities) many thoughtful advocates have been driven toward brand-building and self-promotion. [Emphasis added] (International Vegan Association, 2015)

The author stresses that would-be vegan educators too often just want “attention” and maybe hope for a job or some other form of remuneration. That assumption is understandable from the perspective of the dominant white upper middle-class ideology of the animal rights movement, but when seen through the eyes of people living in poverty the statement is problematic. Not everyone can afford the time, financial resources or the energy to be a vegan educator unless they are compensated for the effort—certainly not the working poor who often depend on multiple jobs just to survive. It can feel disheartening to want to help and yet know the organization is only interested in those who have time, money and energy to provide on a volunteer basis—and worse, to read that the poor actually “threaten our movement.” Telling a person that the only thing that matters is for them to “go vegan” won’t help them get over feelings of being on the outside of the movement and different from those who are able to be fully invested activists.

No, not every vegan abolitionist or animal rights organization collects donations, applies for and receives grant money or has resources available to hire paid staff members. The point being made here is that movement members have much to learn about living in poverty, and they need to refrain from calling those who seek jobs “disgraceful,” “arrogant,” “attention” seekers, or “threatening” to the movement. There is also no suggestion that vegans should get busy and cough up charitable donations for the poor. It is instead a call for solidarity. Charity moves from the top down. Solidarity, on the other hand, is horizontal with everyone standing side by side in mutual respect and possessing a willingness to learn. One example that stands out is a recent effort by the Vegan Intersecionality Project (V.I.P.) in Ireland that saw the organization stand in solidarity with squatters at the Grangegorman site, hearing their stories about police harassment and living in poverty (Vegan Information Project – VIP, 2015). The question remains, did vegan abolitionists miss the opportunity to stand in solidarity with people living in poverty in their analysis of the $29.00 per week per person food budget story? Unfortunately, their discussions did not hinge on poverty and would leave an outsider wondering about vegan priorities.

Poster stating charity is vertical and solidarity is horizontal

Among the first to respond to the circulation of the Gwyneth Paltrow story on Facebook were those who tried to explain what they would buy with only $29.00 to spend for groceries. One couple stated they already lived on approximately $100.00 a month or $25.00 per week. Others were quick to stress the value of bulk purchases of dried beans and frozen fruit. Oatmeal was a popular choice due in part to its low cost per meal. There was some debate over whether the rules of the challenge allowed for use of staples already on hand, e.g. spices and flour. It was established that they do not. Someone mentioned they would make use of the local food pantry, and the advice was offered that local farmers markets will count each dollar of food stamps as two dollars, up to a maximum of fifteen dollars—yet another helpful suggestion.

Questions were raised in other discussions about Gwyneth Paltrow’s food choices, thanks in large part to a Mother Jones (Oh, 2015) article that suggested the selected foods would only be good for a de-tox diet. At that point things deteriorated into a Gwyneth lovers vs. Gwyneth haters debate. Moving on to the next conversation there was finally someone—one woman–who voiced several key concerns, including: 1) society does not need a wealthy celebrity to explain how SNAP works, how SNAP doesn’t provide enough money for an adequate diet or to pretend to live on a SNAP food budget; 2) society will unfortunately not believe anything unless a celebrity says it; and 3) why doesn’t anybody ask SNAP recipients about their experiences? Why is it that only the voices of privilege are sought after and heard?

Poster for Equal Pay Day, April 14, 2015

Ironically, the Paltrow budget game coincided with #EQUALPAYDAY on April 14, 2015, a day meant to bring to everyone’s attention to the fact that women only make 78 cents to every dollar made by men, a pay gap that has held steady for approximately ten years (The Editorial Board, 2015). Women without any advanced degrees make only 74 percent of what men make. Other facts about poverty were mentioned in the equal pay stories. According to 2013 census figures, there are 46.5 million people in the United States living in poverty. Single-mother families living in poverty number 4.1 million, and the child poverty rate remained steady at 21.8 percent. How many of these people—very real people, not just statistics—are on food stamps? 15.8 million! That translates to 13.6 percent of all U.S. households—the highest level ever. Just over half of these households live below the poverty line and just over 40 percent have at least one person in the household who has a disability. Women comprise almost two-thirds of minimum wage earners, and mothers are the primary or sole earners in about forty percent of all households with children under the age of 18 (Shriver, 2014). Think again about why the world turned to Gwyneth Paltrow to educate everyone about poverty and food stamps. Aren’t there enough people, especially women, living in poverty who could teach us much more? These numbers barely begin to convey the realities of life for those living in poverty, but we continue to make the faces of these women invisible and their voices remain unheard.

Here’s one last observation about the vegans who played the Paltrow game and those who described people looking for work with utter contempt—at a time when the vegan abolitionist movement is trying to demonstrate its intersectionality through practice and to show that veganism is not just a diet, it is interesting that they managed to ignore their own privilege and its consequences. Women living in poverty are not statistical objects who just need to go vegan and poverty is not a game.

 

References

Grumpy Old Vegans. (2015, April 5). Grumpy Old Vegans. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GrumpyOldVegan?fref=ts

International Vegan Association. (2015, April 8). International Vegan Association. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/internationalvegan?fref=ts

Johnson, Z. (2015, April 16). eonline. Retrieved from E!: http://www.eonline.com/news/647045/gwyneth-paltrow-admits-she-cheated-on-her-29-food-bank-challenge-after-four-days-i-would-give-myself-a-c

Oh, I. (2015, April 12). Gwyneth Paltrow Confuses Her Latest Master Cleanse with Attempt to Relate to the Poor. Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/mixed-media/2015/04/gwyneth-paltrows-latest-master-cleanse-people-food-stamps

Ritzer, G. (1975). Professionalization, Bureaucratization and Rationalization: The Views of Max Weber. Social Forces, 627-634.

Shriver, M. (2014, January 8). The Female Face of Poverty. Retrieved from The Atlantic : http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/the-female-face-of-poverty/282892/

The Editorial Board. (2015, April 14). Women Still Earn a Lot Less Than Men. Retrieved from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/14/opinion/women-still-earn-a-lot-less-than-men.html

Vegan Information Project – VIP. (2015, March 24). Vegan Information Project – VIP. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theveganinformationproject?fref=ts

Wrenn, C. (2015, January 9). On the Problems with Open Rescues: A Response to the DXE Position. Retrieved from The Academic Abolitionist Vegan: http://academicabolitionistvegan.blogspot.com/2015/01/on-problems-with-open-rescues-response.html

 

 

On Swedish Veganism and Goodness: Intersections of Species, Gender, Race, & Nationality

By Anna Nygren

Oat Drink

I think about: Buying things, buying food, buying bodies, buying inclusivity and exclusivity and subjectivity.

In Sweden, in the fall of 2014: The company Oatly sells its oat based products with slogans such as “It’s like milk only made for humans” and “Wow, no cow!” which made LRF Mjölk (the national organization for diary producers) angry and they sued Oatly. In the end, I think Oatly won (I’m not very good at understanding trials and commercial law, but I read that the process raised the sales figures). OK, milk producers being upset about what should count as Real Milk is not really a new thing, but still, I think this thing with Oatly and LRF make visible something about the relation between drinking milk and being human…and being Swedish.

Dairy Farm

The dairy industry quite often sells their products using arguments like, “From Swedish farms.” They also work hard to produce a history of milk-drinking Swedish people, and a Swedish self-image that includes drinking milk from cows. It has worked so well so that “Landet Mellanmjölk” has become almost a synonym to Sweden, referring to a Swedish people as being moderate (“mellanmjölk” means pasteurized cow milk with 1.5 % fat).

mellanmjölk

Making milk-drinking a criteria for Swedishness not only make violence part of the Swedish history, but also creates a limit for who can be a “real” Swede. It is a definition that excludes everyone who doesn’t want to be part of the milk industry, and it also, very physically, excludes those bodies (for example many Asian-Swedish bodies) that are hurt by lactose and so on. So, LRF’s reaction to Oatly’s campaign also reflects the threat felt by an Astrid-Lindgren-blonde-healthy-good-racist Swedishness to the national self definition.

I hope my references concerning Swedishness are not too internal. I recognize the history of racism and racial biology in Sweden. I think about the “folkhem” (welfare state, literally translated as “the people’s home”), “folkhälsa”/public health, and the violence and exclusions in these concepts. I recognize how Lindgren’s books have been used to define real Swedishness and a romantic nationalism, something light and bright and fresh and white.

Image of Pippi Longstocking, white, red-haired girl with long braided hair smiling in the snow

Pippi Longstocking is perhaps one of author Astrid Lindgren’s most famous characters

I think I love Oatly for challenging this, for saying, “Hey, your products hurt, and that’s not a necessary.” Still, I have a problem with a lot of Oatly’s rhetoric. Because they, in many cases, use the same arguments for selling their products as the milk producers do. Take, for example, the Swedishness aspect. They not only write, “Wow, no cow!” on their products, but also: “No artificial badness,” “Swedish independent,” and “Packed with Swedish goodness.”

Firstly, in the end of 2014, Oatly launched Oatly Apparel featuring t-shirts with their slogans written on them. The photos of the t-shirts on their Facebook page show only white models. People have reacted to this, and Oatly writes that the models are their friends who did the shooting for free, and that they gladly show cool people of other ethnicity, gender and sexuality in other spaces such as Instagram. Looking at their Instagram, I can see that they might be sort of right, but mostly I see only the packages of the products. I think the whiteness of the models are also problematic and connected to “Swedishness.” Seeing a blonde girl dressed in blue jeans, jogging shoes, and a pink t-shirt saying “Packed with Swedish goodness” doesn’t really broaden the definition of Swedishness.

Several images of models wearing Oatly t-shirts. All are in their early 20s, male and female, and white.

Using Sweden in their rhetoric might be a sort of counter-strategy. For example, it is working against the milk industry, connecting the Swedishness, not with Mellanmjölk, but with oat. And for a buyer in Sweden, the ecological aspect of using Swedish (i.e. local) oat might be of importance.

However, consider also the name. I can only think of American Apparel (and I most often don’t want to think of American Apparel), and well, Apparel might have other connections than American Apparel, but it’s not very often used in Sweden, and I think the choice to use the word might come from a similar strategy as the Swedish-thing. It is a way of using words in a different way: I can think of sexist American Apparel pictures and all the debate about them, I can see non-pornographic pictures with the same word connected to them, and I can think, wow, words can have different meanings, or something like that.

But, I still think the Swedishness aspect is problematic because of the whiteness and because of the “goodness.” Lately, the “goodness” (the superiority, the equality and being-best) of the Sweden (or the [self] picture of Sweden, or of Swedish history) has been questioned in different ways. Recall that Sweden was the first country to have a national racial biological institute. Observe that “neutral” can never be neutral because neutrality can never exist. Remember that Sweden has also enacted war and colonization. Researchers like Tobias Hübinette discuss Swedish whiteness as a discourse of Sweden as the whitest country, with the Swedish whiteness as the purest. This discourse creates violence on a lot of bodies. This Swedish whiteness is what I think about when I see Oatly’s t-shirts. It is a violent whiteness and it hurts. It reproduces a picture of a white Swedishness and Swedish whiteness.

On their website, under the heading, “Swedish independent” Oatly writes:

We know how it sounds. Tall, blond, beautiful, hard to get, extremely liberal with no sense of attachment or responsibility whatsoever. Sorry to disappoint you, that’s just not us. We are the other Swede – somewhat boring, super practical, painfully honest, notoriously hardworking and independent not because we don’t want to be social but merely because we want to have the right to say what we think and do what we think is right. 

It’s like, they make fun of the Swedishness, but they hardly challenge the whiteness. They also keep the discussion somewhat middle class-bound (that can be discussed), within a hipster-ish circle, and in line with a discourse of superiority. And then consider the use of the language, the consciousness, the negations. I mean, I think you might only want to abnegate your Swedishness if you’re not really risking losing it, and it might be impossible to distance yourself from it if you’ve never really been included.

So, I think that using Swedishness in any way is problematic. Maybe especially at the moment, when the elections in 2014 gave at hand that the third largest party in Sweden is a racist, nationalistic and fascistic one. I mean, I don’t think that nationalism in any case can save the world, or do much good, because nationalism per se is based on excluding (but still, some sort of “nationalism” might be temporally needed to fight colonialism and so on, though, Sweden doesn’t really need that kind of temporally nationalism).

Secondly, the use of goodness is, I think, another problem. For me, goodness is closely connected to Christian ecclestical discourse, and in the name of that goodness a lot of violent actions have taken place, like missionary colonialism and burning women for being witches. I think: The most violent and cruel actions are often made for goodness sake. And I think: in order for the good to exist, there must be a bad, and for some people to be good, some must be called bad, this creates a dichotomy that will always hurt the Other.

Goodness is also related to the individualistic view of the world. The goodness is tied to the individual person, who, by eating and drinking and buying Oatly’s products will do a good action and become a good person. And the problem is: Not hurting other is something that can never be done for your own ego, because then it is easily the case that what will gain this ego is instead something that will hurt other.

On the webpage for a post-humanist seminar in Lund, Sweden (that I wasn’t able to attend and for which I am crying my eyes out!), I read about the research of Claire Molloy (of the UK). I want to cite it because I can’t write it better!

She also problematized the (at least in the anglo-world) ongoing mainstreaming of (celebrity) veganism, arguing that when veganism becomes another private consumer choice, a hobby to find easy pleasure and fulfillment in, it easily gets detatched from its ethical dimension and radical driving force. The risk is that  the long term goal of abolishing the use of animals in food industry disolves and disappears under the horizon. 

I think this can be connected to the goodness concept. There are a lot of “good” celebrities, and it seems to me that it is quite easy for them to be “good” because they have the money, the power, and the opportunity. Not everyone has this privilege. This is another reason why goodness is a problem.

So, I think about Oatly, about being good, about buying things and selling things and living in a nation and who could be a part of this nation. I think that the problem is probably the market and the commerce and the capitalism, and the language and discourse existing within these, and building these. I think about violence and veganism and goodness. And the problems of how things get connected. And then, I think, I still like Oatly’s product (maybe except for the t-shirts).

Oatly Vegan