Can Choice Feminism Advance Vegan Politics?

C. Lou Hamilton, Veganism Sex and Politics: Tales of Danger and Pleasure. HammerOn Press, 2019.

Hamilton’s Veganism, Sex and Politics offers an approachable feminist spin on modern veganism in the West while tackling the difficult conundrums and compromises sometimes associated with vegan-living in a non-vegan world. The book is aimed at non-vegans who may be sceptical of the white bourgeoisie veganism which is stereotypically depicted in the media, but it also speaks to seasoned vegans who may lack familiarity with critical feminist perspectives as they relate to relationships with food, consumption, and nonhuman animals. To that end, environmental debates, the limits of organic and “humane” production, white-centrism in vegan activism, and the reluctant reliance on speciesism in disabled and queer communities are analysed in Hamilton’s blend of autobiographical musings and theoretical explorations.

At times, however, this critique pays only lip service to leading theory without substantially engaging it. For instance, while Hamilton rehashes the discourse on “dreaded comparisons,” repeating the arguments already well-articulated by Kim Socha (2013), Breeze Harper (2010), and Lee Hall (2010) with regard to resisting the highly problematic tradition in the vegan movement of comparing the institutionalized violence against animals to that which is also imposed on Africans under slavery and Jews under Nazi persecution, Hamilton stops short of extending this critique to the systematic exploitation of women. Hamilton only briefly refers to the work of Carol Adams (2000) with an unsubstantiated suggestion that her “anti-pornography feminism” obscures women’s agency and satisfaction with sex work.

Thus “choice feminism” (the reduction of collective struggle into a buffet of consumer and lifestyle options from which each individual may pick and choose) is introduced to reframe widespread violence against women as either a) blown out of proportion by Adams and her ilk or b) inaccurate given that women “choose” to work in prostitution and pornography. Adams’ theory, furthermore, is described as a disrespectful and clumsy attempt at intersectionality given that women supposedly participate freely in and benefit from Western sexual politics unlike Nonhuman Animals in their respective spaces of oppression. Such a provocative claim would require greater engagement with Adams’ work as well as some scientific evidence, as, firstly, the majority of women (and girls) enter sex work out of economic duress or active pimping and, secondly, sex slavery remains a leading form of bondage globally (Jeffreys 2009). Sex work and sex slavery, for that matter, are the most dangerous fields of “employment” with exceedingly high levels of threat, injury, and death.

Celebrating the agency of a small percentage of persons who enter and remain in the sex industry of their own free will obscures culturally normative misogyny (as well as heterosexism and cis-sexism as LGBT minorities are disproportionately represented in this industry). With regard to vegan politics, choice feminism’s campaign to legalize and normalize prostitution makes for an awkward analogy for other animals. How Hamilton can suggest that institutionalised speciesism should not (or could not) be regulated and reformed to liberate nonhumans while also failing to extend that same logic to women and girls is puzzling and unconvincing. Both sexism and speciesism rely on the pleasurable consumption of feminized and oppressed bodies by the patriarchal dominant class.

Hamilton’s pro-prostitution position likely stems from their commitment to queer politics which, while arguably problematic when used to protect and legitimize male entitlement to feminized bodies, do hold relevance in challenging hetero-patriarchal society’s stigmatization of feminine and queer sexuality and its desire to control bodies deemed “other.” To that end, Hamilton provides and interesting analysis of “fur” and “leather” in the LGBT community. Both products are shaped by class, gender, and colonial relations, making their disruption difficult, but Hamilton suggests a re-envisioning through vegan alternatives which pay homage to nonhuman identities and difference.

Although Hamilton seeks life-affirming species-inclusive alternatives in these cases, their presentation of disability politics is decidedly human-first. In the feminist tradition of challenging androcentric scientific authority, Hamilton encourages those living with disability and illness to become their own experts and engage in speciesism at their own level of comfort. True, the science as an institution has been a source of considerable oppression for marginalized groups and agency over one’s own body and well-being is critical, but Hamilton’s prescription risks fanning scientific distrust to the point of recklessness (particularly in light of the success of the anti-vaccination movement). Further, by encouraging individuals to become their own medical expert and self-experiment with the consumption of other animals, veganism seems to dissipate into a postmodern soup of individual subjectivity and increasing uselessness as a form of political resistance. Given the normative attitudes of cynicism and apathy in the Western vegan movement toward science, Hamilton’s position, while geared toward affirming the individual experience with disability, may be a precarious one.

Hamilton evidently adopts the myth promulgated by professionalized Nonhuman Animal rights organizations that vegans somehow ascribe to an unrealistic level of purity. This strawperson argument, however, lacks validity. In the age of competitive nonprofitization in the social movement arena, the pure vegan stereotype is engaged to legitimize the compromised approaches to animal advocacy (namely, reforming speciesist industries or promoting reducitarianism). These soft tactics are effective for fundraising but run counter to veganism’s political aims of total liberation, thus necessitating some semantical negotiations and vegan stigmatization (Wrenn 2019a). Few, if any, vegans expect faultlessness, and, indeed, The Vegan Society has always, from its founding, emphasized practicality over perfection (Wrenn 2019b). In the case of disability and illness, no one would reasonably expect patients to become martyrs and forgo treatments developed through vivisection or medications containing trace amounts of animal products.

As such, Hamilton’s repeated beleaguering of veganism has the cumulative effect of decentering Nonhuman Animals, particularly in their effort to validate each person’s individual desire, comfort, choice, and ultimately human privilege of determining what counts as “practical.” To this point, it would be useful if Hamilton had extended their analysis beyond feminist theory and applied social movement theory to introduce much-needed evidence-based social science on movement identity politics and effective mobilization. At the very least, more clearly acknowledging how their own take on veganism is far from the widely-embraced or authoritative position would have brought greater credibility and consistency to Veganism, Sex and Politics. Vegan feminism is more of a matter of personal opinion, individual spin, and choice. The celebration of difference, agency, and pleasure-seeking must be matched with a commitment to solidarity, collective struggle, and some degree of sacrifice. Unfortunately, Hamilton’s anthropocentric narrative hesitates on how to effectively negotiate human diversity politics with the interests of other animals.

References

Adams, C. (2000). The sexual politics of meat. New York: Continuum.

Hall, L. (2010). On their own terms: bringing animal-rights philosophy down to earth. Darien: Nectar Bat Press.

Harper, B. (2010). Sistah vegan. Brooklyn: Lantern.

Jeffreys, S. (2009). The industrial vagina: the political economy of the global sex trade. New York: Routledge.

Socha, K. (2013). The ‘dreaded comparisons’ and speciesism: leveling the hierarchy of suffering. In K. Socha and S. Blum (Eds.), Confronting animal exploitation (223-240). Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.

Wrenn, C. (2016). A rational approach to animal rights. London: Palgrave.

Wrenn, C. (2019a). Piecemeal protest: Animal rights in the age of nonprofits. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Wrenn, C. (2019b). From seed to fruition: a political history of The Vegan Society. Food and foodways 27(3), 190-210.


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 is a member of the Research Advisory Council of The Vegan Society. She has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute and has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Environmental Values, 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).

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Why I’m Giving Beyoncé’s Vegan Campaign a Chance

Beyoncé and Jay-Z shocked mainstream news and vegan activists alike when they announced that fans who pledge to go plant-based have a chance to win free tickets to their concerts for life.

Some vegans have not been so enthusiastic about the campaign, citing that veganism “for the health” is not the same as veganism “for the animals,” and that veganism is not something that can be “forced” on others.

Whose Veganism is It Anyway?

To this I would counter that, although some (myself included) may understand veganism to be a matter of anti-speciesism, vegans should hesitate to insist that the Eurocentric interpretation of veganism is the only valid approach.

As a practical matter, a “master frame” of veganism is not especially useful in the context of a diverse audience. Personally, I critique the hegemonic vegan frame which is highly bureaucratized and prioritizes capitalist interests over the interests of effective social change (which I argue inevitably undermines veganism). To be able to criticize hegemonic veganism from this angle, however, is a reflection of my white privilege.

As a white person, I have to concede that other ethnicities will have other priorities. These include the deadly consequences of food deserts and food insecurity as well as the role that “animality” as a social construct has played in the oppression of people of color. These are priorities which have been beautifully outlined by activist scholars such as Dr. Breeze Harper and Aph & Syl Ko.

I concede that “my” veganism will not be the veganism that other folk feel compelled to adopt.

The Vegan Society defines veganism as:

a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

Beyoncé definitely does not count as a “vegan” according to this definition. She claims to eat animals’ flesh occasionally since it’s “all about moderation.” I assume her stage outfits make use of real birds’ feathers and cows’ skin as well. Her makeup is probably produced from slaughterhouse renderings and tested on other animals. She could exclude these things quite “possibly” and “practicably.”

But is The Vegan Society’s definition the only definition that matters? More specifically, is it the only definition which should apply to everyone? What about people of color living in a racialized society?

I suggest that the vegan identity is multifaceted and that the terms of engagement must be contextualized.

Cultural Force

In any case, I think it is a stretch to claim that Bey (who is not even a vegan herself) is “forcing” veganism on others. Fans who claim to go vegan (how can their veganism even be verified?) only have a chance to win free tickets, they are not guaranteed free tickets. Attending expensive music concerts is not a requirement, it is only recreational. Nor do Bey or Jay-Z require a complete transition since they also promote reducetarianism or “meatless Mondays.”

As I have uncovered in my research on flexitarian campaigns of this kind, many people already identify as someone who does not eat “that much” meat or dairy, since reducing animal product consumption is seen as a social good (unlike veganism which is interpreted as “extreme”). Importantly, the flexitarian identity does not often correlate with actual behavior change. In some cases, those who identify as flexitarian actually consume more animal products than their non-flexitarian-identifying counterparts.

That said, Bey is using her cultural clout to promote a social good. This is no different from the efforts of white celebrities like Moby, Morrissey, and, if you stretch it, Miley Cyrus. Morrissey reportedly bans all sale of animal flesh at his concerts–is he forcing his fans to be vegetarian?

True, celebrities are rarely trained in social justice activism, and their politics are not always perfect. I also find it uncomfortable that society should rely on celebrities to promote social goods since celebrities, given their extreme wealth, are the very embodiment of social inequality. Yet, Bey is putting her money where her mouth is–she is using her celebrity and privilege to make the world a better place through the channels available to her.

As this essay goes to print, Senator Cory Booker (also a person of color) has just announced his bid for presidency. He is a fierce social justice advocate and a longtime vegan. But he, too, promotes veganism for a wide variety of reasons which do not always center other animals. Would the movement be so quick (and foolhardy) to write off Cory Booker if he were to become our first vegan president? Need the vegan movement even have to wait for a vegan president? Beyoncé is practically American royalty, after all. Her clout arguably exceeds that of Booker’s.

Whether white activists like it or not, celebrity influencers shape the cultural landscape. The vegan identity (unlike the flexitarian identity) is a highly stigmatized one, and social movements will need to normalize its goals before they can be widely adopted. If Queen Bey makes vegan cool, it might not be “for the right reasons” (that is, it might not seek to advance the interests of Nonhuman Animals), but it can have a significant impact on the community she serves.

The Master Frame

Social movement scholars acknowledge that collectives strategically design frames which are hoped to resonate with their audiences. Multiple frames can be at work, but it is sometimes the case that a “master frame” will come to dominate in the movement’s repertoire. The utility of a master frame is its ability to present a strong, united front to the public and policy-makers. The downside is that a “one-size-fits-all” approach can be unrealistic given that audiences (and activists themselves) are not necessarily homogenous. Persuasion is a complicated matter and it sometimes takes many approaches to push a social justice agenda.

The Vegan Society, which formed in 1944 Britain and officially launched the political concept of “veganism” in the West following a protracted debate with The Vegetarian Society, may have prioritized veganism as a matter of anti-speciesism, but, from its very conception, it drew on a diverse framework relating to human health, poverty and famine, war, and individual autonomy. Indeed, The Vegan Society, today, continues a multipronged approach.

As the society moved into the 21st century, it continued to promote veganism, not necessarily as an endeavor to liberate other animals, but as something “normal” and achievable. Its vegan labeling scheme, for instance, was a major campaign in this effort. I have my issues with such an approach given its pro-capitalist leanings and its watering down of the anti-speciesist radical politic, but it is the case nonetheless that the expansion of commercially available vegan products has made veganism easier to perform.

Beyoncé has been dragged before for not meeting the expectations of white activist frames. White feminists, for instance, have criticized her brand of feminism as sexually objectifying and complicit with patriarchy, if not ignored it altogether. Black feminists have responded by reminding the community that there is no one “Feminism” (capital F) but rather many feminisms, and the failure to embrace Black women’s activism reflects white supremacy in the public space.

Because inequality does not stop at the door of social justice movements, activists must consider how inequality can sometimes shape strategy. Who is the “master” in developing the “master frame”? What I am suggesting is that the “master frame” is too frequently racialized in its construction.

Likewise, the need to control the vegan discourse and the very definition of veganism itself is rooted in colonial politics. As European countries pushed their culture onto “inferior” and “ignorant” subjects, they expected full assimilation. There was little patience for adaptation or nuance; it was simply presumed that European cultural values were universal and should be adopted unquestioningly. This is the very definition of cultural domination.

In this vein, it must be remembered that, while non-Western countries have their own histories of plant-based resistance, “Veganism” (capital V) as it is understood and politicized today, is a deeply European concept. White activists must tread carefully when attempting to impose “their” veganism on “others.” Indeed, the vegan movement, dominated as it is by white activists, has been less than welcoming to the veganisms of other cultures. This is problematic if the goal is to expand veganism beyond middle-class white spaces.

Most people go vegan and stay vegan because of their concern for other animals. Bey’s health-centric, flexitarian approach does not alter this research-supported fact. But Bey also has a wider cultural influence and represents a nonwhite consumer base that has been traditionally overlooked by the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. I am interested to see if her efforts will contribute to the larger discourse. I am also deeply supportive of women of color who have the “audacity” to be political in a white-dominated cultural landscape. Celebrity persuasion is far from perfect, but it can contribute to the destigmitization of veganism. This cultural normalcy was The Vegan Society’s aim all along.


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).

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Renouncing Vegan Birthright

By Julia Tanenbaum

The new Vegan Birthright program sponsored by Jewish Veg and Mayanot Birthright exemplifies how Zionists so often exploit the struggle for animal rights in the service of colonialism. Since 1999 Birthright Israel has handed 500,000 young Jews worldwide a free trip to Israel at the hidden cost of the dispossession of millions of Palestinians. As both Vegans and Jews we have a moral duty to renounce this program that supports Israel’s ongoing colonization of Palestine and apartheid policies. Over 5 million Palestinian refugees are to this day excluded from their own land while any Jew born and raised in the U.S is encouraged to claim their “birthright” to it. Jewish Veg’s rhetoric of compassion and repairing the world cloaks deep hypocrisy. Vegan birthright advertises a chance to meet “world leaders” in the Jewish vegan community in a “world leading vegan city”, but in reality this narrative is part of an Israeli propaganda strategy to use Israel’s supposed status as a liberal home for first queers, now vegans, to obscure the brutal violence of the occupation. Endorsing Birthright means supporting Israeli apartheid, denying millions of innocent Palestinians access to basic human rights like clean water, electricity, education, freedom of movement, and medical care. This immeasurable violence is fundamentally incompatible with the nonviolent ethos of veganism. Jewish Veg must show us which side they are on; do they support ethnic cleansing and colonialism or will they stand in solidarity with all sentient beings, Palestinians included? We call on Jewish Veg to stop the vegan Birthright program and renounce the racist ideology of Zionism if they share our values as Jewish vegans.

The Israeli animal rights movement vegan Birthright venerates is not only complicit in but directly encourages the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine through “vegan-washing” the occupation. Every year or so another article circulates about how the Israeli Armed Forces provides vegan food and boots to soldiers, upholding the absurd myth of the IDF as the “most moral army in the world”. Palestinian animal rights organizers have termed this narrative of Israeli vegan exceptionalism “vegan washing”. Vegan washing works by falsely juxtaposing “enlightened Israeli vegans” with “backwards” Palestinians, and by creating a form of militarized veganism which bears little resemblance to the radical nonviolent vision of animal liberation.

Mainstream Israeli veganism falls in line with this strategy. Israel’s leading animal rights group 269 Life attracts significant attention for its violent demonstrations, which perpetuate racism and sexism, but less for its pernicious “non-humans first” stance which unequivocally defines human oppressions, such as racism, sexism, capitalism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, etc., as irrelevant to fighting for animal rights. Leaders of the group like Santiago Gomez support the occupation using the logic of vegan washing, because of “how the ‘Arabs’ treat animals”. Gomez goes to the lengths of supporting Israeli massacres of Palestinian fishermen, whose lives he clearly values far less than those of the fish. Vegan Jewish “messiah” Gary Yourofsky is blatantly racist against Palestinians, calling them “the most insane people on the planet”. He even spoke at the Ariel Settlement, where illegal settlers were caught torturing Palestinian children, sparking a boycott.

At its best, animal liberation organizing shakes the foundations of our social order by rejecting human domination over nature and all of it’s inhabitants. The entrenched racism of our movement obscures how the simple idea that all sentient beings hold innate rights to life and liberty and exist for their own sake is fundamentally revolutionary.  If we reject the idea that humans have the “right” to animal bodies and lives we must also reject the much larger colonial project which relies on the same ideology.

We must reject the vegan washing model and instead follow the example of anti-Zionist vegans like the members of the Palestinian Animal League or Anarchists Against the Wall, which began as the pro-intersectional human and animal rights organisation ‘One Struggle’. We must follow the example of vegans like Haggai Matar, who spent two years in prison for refusing the draft in 2002. Organizations from 269 Life to PETA think they will attract people to veganism through racism and sexism, but there are no shortcuts to liberation, especially when they harm other oppressed communities. Decolonizing Veganism is the only way for non-human animals to become free because history teaches us that solidarity is the strongest weapon in the face of injustice. Vegans must choose whether to continue our community’s endorsement of colonial violence and white supremacy or stand for the lives and liberty of all sentient beings.

 


Julia Tanenbaum is a member of the Philadelphia chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now. She has organized as a student and in local environmental and racial justice movements. She previously published her research on the history of anarcha-feminism in Perspectives on Anarchist Theory. She deeply believes that animal liberation must be conceptualized as a part of a larger struggle for social revolution.

The Most Unpopular Way To Fight Climate Change That People Need To Get On Board With

By Michele Kaplan

So, as 45 (Trump) has pulled out of the Paris Accord, people are wondering what will happen in regard to climate change and the planet? After all, most people (including science) agree that climate change is one of the major factors behind such devastating storms as Hurricane Sandy, which made areas of New York City look like a war zone.

Climate change is no joke.

And it’s not like Hurricane Sandy is the only storm of this nature. Climate change has and continues to wreak havoc around the world.

And now The President wants to lessen our commitment to fighting climate change? While this is not a shocking outcome, (did we really expect him to do the right thing?), it is a dangerous one, especially for the low income communities and disabled population who are hit the hardest in such storms. Groups that he is already oppressing via his policies.

Related: The impact climate change on indigenous communities?

Granted leaving the Paris Accord, according to Jean-Claude Juncker (President of the EU), is not as simple as 45 seems to think it is and some cities are pledging to ignore 45’s decision and are committing to fight climate change. There are also a number of amazing environmental activist groups who will continue the fight for clean and sustainable energy, and help save the planet.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think the goal of sustainable energy for all are absolutely attainable and definitely worth fighting for. And I will continue to proudly stand (or sit – as I’m in a wheelchair) with these groups.

But there’s another way that we can fight climate change, that does not require us to get permission from the powers that be. We do not need to petition the CEOs, in hopes they will see the light. It’s something that science has proven to be effective – and yet the moment the topic comes up, people seem to put their fingers in their ears and go “la la la la la la”, so they don’t hear what is being said. It’s unpopular to the point, that I questioned whether it was worth writing this article, as sure the choir would agree, but beyond that? However, I chose to write this article, despite the topic being unpopular, this. needs. to. be. said.

So what is it? What is possibly the most unpopular way to fight climate change that people need to get on board with?

image description: A photo of two cats on a small table. One cat is holding and it looks like they’re comforting the other cat

“Hold me, I’m scared.”

Moving towards a plant-based lifestyle (aka: vegan) to the best of people’s abilities.

Cue the frequently asked questions!

“Veganism? What? What’s that got to do with climate change?

The UN did a study that showed that the animal agriculture industry is one of the largest contributors to climate change.

Related:  Further statistics on how the animal agriculture industry impacts the earth, water supply and us all.

“Aren’t you just imposing your beliefs on other people?

Nope. While I am vegan for ethical reasons (as well as environmental), what I am proposing to you is not a matter of belief. This is a matter of science. And if we don’t like when 45 ignores the truth of science, then in turn, we must not ignore the truth of science, even if it’s truth that we’d prefer was not true.

“Great, so what? Now I have to eat lettuce all day?”

A common myth but actually vegan food is everywhere and there is a really good chance that you are already eating vegan food. For an example: french fries. Made from potatoes. A plant. Typically fried in some kind of oil like corn, canola, vegetable – which are from plants. Ketchup? Comes from tomatoes – a plant. Typically spices (unless it’s Cow Spice – which may or may not exist. I really rather not google that) are not derived from animals and thus are vegan. My point being is that vegan food is not only way more common than you think, it’s also way more than just rabbit food and the super pricey artisinal vegan cheeses, that people tend to think of when they hear they word vegan.

“I once met a vegan and they were totally [racist, transphobic, sexist, ableist, fatphobic, islamophobic, homophobic, etc etc. and/or just a real prick]

Yeah, me too. However, this doesn’t mean that veganism as a lifestyle/philosophy is that way, nor does it makes veganism a bad idea. (I’ve met some sexist jerks in the anti-war movement, doesn’t make war a good idea.)

Related: Is Veganism Ableist?

Related: Things Black Vegans Are Sick Of Hearing

Related: The Sistah Vegan Project

“But meat/animal skins is part of my culture (which is very important to me)”
Finding a balance between tradition and change is a very delicate one. That being said, please note that the following response is referring more to grandma’s recipe, rather than food/items used in a sacred ritual/event, as I don’t really feel it’s my place to speak on that.

It’s important to realize how these foods came to be tradition and part of our respective cultures. More than not, it wasn’t really a choice, but rather it was making the best out of the situation. It was making do with what they had.  Therefore one could argue that now it’s our turn to adapt (while maintaining our connection to our respective roots). Now it’s our turn to do what we need to do to survive. Lastly, keep in mind that a lot of recipes can be made vegan these days in very delicious ways.

“Yeah but what about this cause?”
There are so many forms of injustice in the world, it can be hard to keep up with everything. And yes, fighting climate change via plant based decisions, is one of many many important struggles. Keep in mind that going vegan or at least moving towards a plant based lifestyle doesn’t mean you need to join the animal rights movement and take it to the streets, if you don’t want to. Just make changes in your own life, and continue to fight for the causes closest to your heart.

“Yeah, but don’t humans need to eat meat?”
Unlike cats, humans are not obligatory carnivores, meaning they don’t need to eat meat. In fact, there are even vegan body builders who have no problem with energy levels nor building muscle.

A B&W photo of vegan body builder, Torre Washington who is flexing their muscles for the camera

Photo of Torre Washington, Vegan Bodybuilder. Photo Credit: Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness

That being said, if you say that due your health, you are not able to alter your diet, I won’t challenge that, as I am not a doctor. I’m also disabled and I know that not everyone has the same body. Just as not everyone has the same access and options, especially if you live in a food dessert, where you don’t have the big supermarket in your neighborhood. Sure, shopping online can be an option for some, but isn’t always accessible if you are on food stamps. I get it.

Related: Peta can be pretty problematic, but they have this great list of every day junk foods that are unintentionally vegan that may be available in your corner store

Related: Thrive (an online grocery story that carries a lot of specialty vegan items) offers free memberships to people “are” low income

The truth is (and something you don’t hear about) no one is 100% vegan. I’m vegan, but I get my food at (and thus financially support) a supermarket that has a whole section that profits from the animal agriculture industry. Our system makes it impossible to do no harm. So, it comes down to doing the least harm and the most good. Start small. Eat one vegan (or plant based) meal or snack a day. You may already be doing that. Or again if changing your diet is legitimately not an option, you can also make an impact by choosing synthetic materials when purchasing shoes, jackets and/or bags etc. Share this article. Start this conversation with people you care about. There are many ways to make an impact and everyone has something they can contribute.

“I am utterly overwhelmed due to stress and/or oppression and the presidency, and now you want me to research this myself?”

I hear you. And nope. Just go here. It breaks it all down. https://www.whyveganism.com . The website was created by an animal rights group who does discuss the moral angle of veganism. However, they also have recipes, tips and a free vegan starter kit. If you prefer to watch a movie, which talks about veganism from the environmental perspective, Cowspiracy is on netflix. If you don’t have access to netflix, you can read the stats that are presented in the documentary online.

I know this is a sensitive and nuanced topic. I get it. I wasn’t always vegan. Food is culture. Food is comfort. Food is memories. But at the end of the day, the animal agriculture industry is one of the largest contributors to climate change. The powers that be are not going to do what’s best for the people, and thus we need to take action, to the best of our abilities to save ourselves. #Solidarity

 

This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox on June 3, 2017.


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.

“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 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).

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Essay Reading – Why Trump Veganism Must Go

trump-veganism

Donald Trump’s campaign built on hate and fear-mongering is a tactic all to familiar to vegan mobilization. This essay identifies the dangers to social justice and social movement stability that Trump veganism presents.

Reading by Dr. Corey Lee Wrenn; music by Lucas Hayes.

This is an installment of Vegan Feminist Network’s podcast series, making popular essays more accessible through audio recording. You can access the original essay by clicking here.

Archives of this podcast can be found here.