Roe v. Wade and Your Milk & Eggs

In a world where billions of female animals’ bodies and reproductive systems are owned, controlled, and exploited by men, the dismantling of Roe v Wade in the so-called “land of the free” sadly makes too much sense.

Animal studies scholars have pointed to the emergence of domestication (the biological, physical and psychological control over animals to manage and exploit their reproduction) as a major turning point in human history whereby women’s social status, alongside that of other animals, plummeted. Women, too, were subject to “husbandry” to manage their reproduction for men’s aims.

In the United States, this is buttressed by a patriarchal religious institution and a patriarchal legal system that both normalize and enforce subservience to (human) male rule. Women and other animals alike are to be sacrificed and suppressed under men’s “stewardship.”

In this anthroparchal society within which the controlling and exploiting of animals is normalized, women will never be free. Feminists and their allies who will be sitting down to breakfast with milk and eggs in the morning might consider the systemic violence happening with other reproductive systems and what this means for us all.


Corey Lee Wrenn

Dr. Wrenn is Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Kent. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. 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 is the co-founder of the International Association of Vegan Sociologists. 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), Piecemeal Protest: Animal Rights in the Age of Nonprofits (University of Michigan Press 2019), and Animals in Irish Society: Interspecies Oppression and Vegan Liberation in Britain’s First Colony (State University of New York Press 2021).

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Frivolous Femininity and Plant-based Eating

 

In my research on the phenomenon of sexualized veganism, I have noted that veganism poses a threat to anthroparchal power in a speciesist society and is thus vulnerable to sexist repressive efforts. Despite decades of stigmatization and discrimination, veganism has nevertheless persisted. Some of this persistence is a result of capitalism’s co-optation of veganism. Capitalism has effectively transformed a social justice movement into lifestyle consumerism. Emphasizing the gender politics of plant-based products helps ease a radical resistance movement into the marketplace. Sexualized vegan advertising, in particular, effectively pulls on gender stereotypes, sex, and careless consumption to sell a disempowered, consumer-friendly “veganism.”

Consider the American chain restaurant Red Robin. In an advertisement for its large variety of burgers, it makes special mention of its newly available Garden Burger. Speciesist industries will often greenwash their branding in order to avoid critique of other, less sustainable products on offer. Adding a token vegan item, however, is also important for ensuring that one dissenting consumer will not prevent a larger group of speciesist consumers (i.e. their family or friends) from choosing that brand. Companies are thus in the tricky position of needing to accommodate vegans without repelling speciesists. 

Sex depoliticizes. Red Robin’s ad, for instance, specifically draws attention to its veggie burger as appropriate for teenage girls in the family who may be “going through a phase.” Sexualizing vegan food in this way–by 1) noting the presumed gender of the consumer, 2) disparaging her activism as “a phase,” and 3) phrasing this disparagement as “just a phase” to align it with the similarly disparaged LGBTQ+ community–helps to promote it as an option while protecting the anthroparchal status quo. 

By way of another example, American fast-food chain Subway promoted its largely “meat”-based mix-and-match lunch deal as an offer that has “something for everyone.” The ‘Veggie Delite’ sandwich is paired with a white woman stereotyped as a hippie love child. Like the Red Robin commercial, Subway reinforces the sexist notion that healthy and ethical consumption is associated with the feminine gender role. More than this, the trope of the silly, free-spirited, “meat”-free white woman that Subway applies reinforces the idea that veganism is a lifestyle choice frivolously based on one’s current mood or appetite; as changing and unserious as women are presumed to be. Veganism presented as a care-free, fun lifestyle choice disassociates it from the serious (and more masculized) realm of politics where veganism threatens the very status quo that enriches Red Robin, Subway, and other violent companies.

 

 


Corey Lee Wrenn

Dr. Wrenn is Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Kent. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. 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 is the co-founder of the International Association of Vegan Sociologists. 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), Piecemeal Protest: Animal Rights in the Age of Nonprofits (University of Michigan Press 2019), and Animals in Irish Society: Interspecies Oppression and Vegan Liberation in Britain’s First Colony (State University of New York Press 2021).

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Really Knowing and Interfering in Reality

Marv Wheale

Species are socially composed by human animals into a vertical chain of worth.  Species, gender, class, race, ability, size and age structures of nations are material extensions of patriarchal logic.  Vegan Feminism is the way onward and upward.

Assigned “edible animals” have a unique type of non-status in the species pyramid of patriarchy that is obscured by generic terms like speciesism and human supremacy.  These animals share no allowable claims to personhood and space; they are treated as a horde not as individuals; most of the places they inhabit are unlivable.

Another feature of consumable animals is that they are a mainstay of “men” made structures across time and location.  Whichever human animal society you study, – tribal, spiritual, religious, monarchical, feudal, nation state, capitalist, etc – has been built on the use of these animals and their secretions.

Capitalism, for instance, is dependent on food designated animals to achieve and reproduce itself.  Inducting them is not simply adding another product to the economic system.  Eating flesh (and plants) fuels both capital and labor to carry out their unequal power roles.  Huge profits are made by businessmen in the purchase and sale of bodies, dismembered parts, human labor, land, buildings, machinery, insurance, feed grains, fertilizers, water systems, fossil fuels, electrical power, transport, veterinarian skills, pharmaceuticals, human healthcare (to deal with the symptoms of eating other animals) and funeral industry services. The wealth gained is spent in part to boost more growth in buying and selling death, contributing to the expansion of the whole economy. 

Some theorists think capital is structurally indifferent to edibly purposed animals in the process of production and reproduction.  The hypothesis maintains that capitalism has no innate requirement for animals but merely makes use of them as opportunistic instruments to create another market for profits.  If there was no significant demand for animals in the future due to growing consumer awareness of animal suffering and of impacts on the biosphere, the system would move on to capture more lucrative ventures.

Historically however, in lived practice, “extra-economic” inequalities have always been part of the inner workings of capitalism and key to its dominating and alienating success.  Animal and human animal subjugation is a legacy from pre-capitalist times, a social inheritance baked into capitalism’s nature.  The economic model evolves past oppressive ties in varied ways to suit its own drive for accumulation.

The capitalist productivist mode could not endure without the nation state to regulate it.  Unrestricted market relations would end in a destructive free for all in an economically lawless world.  

In relation to consumable animals, state entities mediate the production and reproduction of such animals for capitalists.  Welfare state provisions/subsidies keep the system hardy, along with cruelty prevention laws (extolled by animal advocacy nonprofits), to ensure animals remain captive to capital use and keep the public content. 

What might we learn about social transfiguration when we start with the premise that eating animals is a keystone to the existence of capitalism, nation-building and male dominance not merely a correlation?  Could it be the adoption of Vegan Feminism, the commitment to veganism and to solidarity with anti-patriarchal-capitalist-racist organizations?

Nonhuman animal welfare fixtures and their fixations have omitted this assessment altogether.  They have dominated public policy shaping for nonhuman animal exploitation redress, without reference to the interconnections between patriarchal capitalism and the consumption of other animals.  Their short-sighted step-by-step proposals to the government and industry are otherwise known as incrementalism and siloing. Championing veganism and human equality coalitions in unison, as the solutions to animal and human animal oppression, go against the establishment’s standard practice of fundraising, publication, and lobbying to reduce harm.  What becomes of redress when mediocrity and decontextualizing injustice are the plan for change?

A Vegan Feminist paradigm recognizes eaten animals’ full structural position in the world through authentic ways of seeing, knowing and interceding.

*The revelations of this piece are not original to me

We All Want To Be Free: Disability, Veganism, Oppression & Trauma

By Michele K

In my experience when you’re disabled (and proud #represent ) but require home health care services, it seems like you can’t go 6 months without having to fight against cuts in funding, Which means, that every damn year, we are fighting against attacks (from democrats and republicans) on our literal freedom. Do you know what it’s like to fight to not be forced from your home and into nursing homes & institutions? It’s exhausting, it’s terrifying and it’s normalized. As of early April 2022, I have been signal boosting  #FairPay4Home Care, which works to solve the home health care worker shortage crisis by ensuring a fair wage (not poverty wage) for HHC workers, More workers in the HHC industry, less disabled and/or seniors forced from our homes. Our struggles are connected.

Getting involved in the movement has been simultaneously fulfilling as I am currently mostly bedbound (though working on getting stronger) and sometimes feel isolated from the world, so it has been nice to feel a part of something bigger than myself and my friends. But at times it was also triggering (in the actual psychological sense of the word, not as in a synonym for merely bothered as it’s often misused). No one deserves to be forced from their homes against their will and into institutions, where daily life is a dehumanizing assembly line. And that’s just when we’re not in a pandemic. When we are, such places can be a literal death trap and nightmare.

An experience, I unfortunately know all to well, as I spent several months in three different nursing homes from October 2021 to January 2022. Not only was I malnourished, not only did I at times experience abuse and neglect, but as I mentioned in the previous article which was somewhat controversial,  I (like many of those stuck in institutions) was not able to remain vegan.

And because at that point, I had already lost far too much weight as it was in these various hospitals and institutions, I had little choice but to consume animals like chicken and fish. And at first, it broke my heart more than I can say, but like many toxic experiences that occurred during that time, my way of getting through things was to shut down as I was essentially in survival mode. And it got to the point where I was so closed off emotionally, that after a month, I ate chickens and fish without much of a thought. To be clear I didn’t take pleasure in it. I didn’t take pleasure in much during that time. It was eat or starve – so I ate. But I never felt good about it. I just shut down from those feelings of sadness, the knowledge that I am eating a fellow being. Nope not a being. Just food.

When I got out of the nursing home, my health was not stabilized. In fact, it was worse. I had actually gotten covid while I was there because at first there was one case, then there was a whole floor of covid, and then it was on three floors of covid (including the floor I was on). And still, the owners of the nursing home kept accepting new people even though the staff was already overwhelmed and burnt out and could not keep up with the numbers that we had. In many cases, sometimes on a daily basis, the staff punched down. I remember being so dehydrated at one point that I collapsed on the floor, only to be yelled at because they didn’t have time for “these games”. It was not a game. So when I came home I was not only messed up physically but also mentally. I had experienced trauma and had a lot of healing to do. Anyone who knows that the path to healing from trauma is not an easy one because you have to remember, feel, process and grieve –  and I had gone to great lengths to avoid such things, I still get flashbacks and it remains one of the hardest things I have ever had to get through.

That said, one of the many good things about being home (besides being in a safer environment) was that I was able to eat whatever I wanted – within the realm of my allergies and dietary intolerances. At first I was concerned that going back to vegan “too quickly” might be too much of a shock for my body which was already pretty messed up at this point in time. In addition, one doctor had told me that eating soy might exasperate my thyroid issues, and so part of me felt scared about returning to tofu. I was also experiencing these really strong cravings for salmon that I initially didn’t understand. What if I can’t be vegan for medical reasons and if I stop eating fish I’ll get even worse? I realize now this thinking was partially rooted in trauma. With trauma responses, you experience really intense depression and intense anxiety, so making changes (even good ones) can feel incredibly overwhelming. But at one point in my recovery, as I started to heal, I reconnected to the realization that the salmon I was eating was not just “food” but this was a being, this was a life that was not mine to take. And when I reconnected to that, I cried. Like me, this was a life that deserved freedom and safety. But furthermore, I realized I don’t need to eat the fish anymore. I am no longer in survival mode. I am safe now and I can let it go. So, I looked for other sources of Omega 3 (hemp hearts and jackfruit according to the internet) and it felt safe to make the change.

Just as it was important for me to honor the life of the fish, it was also important for me to honor my feelings on the matter and what was needed to feel safe. Instead of just trying to ignore the feelings or even chastise myself for having them in the first place. My heart is vegan, why am I craving salmon?! I honored those feelings and looked at why I was having the craving in the first place. Turns out as my body was quite malnourished from my time in the various institutions, I needed more calories, more iron, omega 3, and protein than what I was eating as my body needed to heal. Once I ate more of what was needed, the cravings went away. It was never that I wanted salmon per se, but rather that my body just wanted the nutrients that salmon had.

Last week was the first week since I’ve been home that I was fully vegan.  I am feeling better physically (as my body tends to feel better when I eat a fairly whole foods vegan diet, It has a hard time absorbing nutrients from animals, so I tend to do better plant-based.) I am also feeling better emotionally. I am still healing from the trauma which is a work in progress. I’ve been having an increase in flashbacks since becoming more involved in #FairPay4HomeCare but I try to do something in the morning and then leave it alone for the rest of the day in the name of self-care, and honor the feelings in between. But I am also getting involved with activism again, starting to create again, listening to music more and reconnecting to my passions, and living accordingly to what I feel in my heart – which includes veganism. And this is key – to know how to feed my soul, and nourish my body, especially as I continue to heal and fight with my people to remain in our homes. For, in the end, we all just want to be free.

Esther the wonder pig is half sitting on her bed and half on the floor. She is smiling and hanging out with her best friend Phil the dog.

This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox in 2022.


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.

The “No-Means-Yes” Rape Trope in PETA Pornography

Too often in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement sexist scripts are used to push messages of animal liberation. While utilizing the naked female form as a stand-in for other animals is a common tactic, there is a growing trend among some organizations to pull on more insidious themes in pornography to resonate with a sex-saturated society.

Consider the “I’d Rather Go Naked Than” ad campaign featuring Alexandra Burke. The advertisement itself is rather standard for PETA, but the promotional language is rather disturbing:

“I was nervous about posing nude as I’ve never done it before,” she said. “It was uncomfortable initially, but the photographer made me feel relaxed and at ease. Ultimately I love my body, so it was great to do something for such a worthwhile cause.”

As pornography becomes more normal in the public sphere, the scripts that used to tantalize are now tolerated. Producers have responded with increasingly shocking material. In the case of PETA, the “I’d Rather Go Naked Than” campaign that launched in the 1990s was initially quite shocking. However, naked women are now ubiquitous even in mainstream media. There is likely pressure to keep these campaigns relevant with more extreme and fetishistic framing.

In Burke’s case, the trope of the reluctant, innocent woman whose inner slut is waiting to emerge has been applied by PETA campaigners. This is not at all to slut-shame, but it is clear that the campaign’s language aligns with perhaps the most popular sexual script in pornography. It is found in the most viewed genres centering women and girls who are described as virgins, teens, or “barely legal.” Although she is clearly uninterested in a sexual exchange, she is persuaded to do so, and, after the act is complete, she indicates that she actually enjoyed participating.

This is a classic “no-means-yes” or “no-means-persuade me” myth that predators use to rationalize violence against women and pornographers use to shock consumers who have built up a tolerance. In both pornography and PETA campaigning, even if a man is not physically present in the scene, the power of the pornographer, media producer, and (patriarchal, male-owned) media, in general, is apparent in the ability to make the woman behave against her will.

Traditional gender norms teach us that women and girls are supposed to play “hard to get” and be innocent, pure, and unwilling.  It is this unwillingness that is eroticized. Rape and sexual domination are exercises in power.

PETA emulates this common pornography trope to titillate, but this tactic comes at the expense of women’s dignity. Furthermore, it risks aggravating rape myths that endanger us all. If the Nonhuman Animal rights movement actively contributes to a culture of domination and violence, it is unclear how this will be effective for animal liberation.


Corey Lee Wrenn

Dr. Wrenn is Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Kent. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. 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 is the co-founder of the International Association of Vegan Sociologists. 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), Piecemeal Protest: Animal Rights in the Age of Nonprofits (University of Michigan Press 2019), and Animals in Irish Society: Interspecies Oppression and Vegan Liberation in Britain’s First Colony (State University of New York Press 2021).

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The Humane Myth of Ahimsa

“We could worship even animals but would not tolerate fellow humans to sit beside us.” Bhagat Singh, freedom fighter, in Issue of Untouchability, 1928.

“Do not keep contact with those who feed ants with sugar, but kill men by prohibiting them to drink water.” Babasaheb Ambedkar, chief architect of Constitution of India and social reformer, in What Path to Salvation? 1936.

We all want to align ourselves with what is good and kind, and we are only too willing to buy in to stories that reinforce our self-perception as ethical and humane. Myriad companies employ the strategy of “humane-washing” in an effort to capitalize on these instincts. Humane-washing is a way in which companies attempt to convince consumers that their products are less cruelly sourced than those of their competitors. A familiar example would be the label “cage-free eggs,” which might be accompanied by images of chickens living free in lush, idyllic pastures. To the contrary, “cage-free” often still results in thousands upon thousands of birds being crammed together in large warehouses; they’re just not kept in individual cages. The warehouse, in turn, serves as a sort of “mass cage.” In the entirety of their short lives, these chickens will never see a pasture.

Similar myths are propagated around “happy cows” in dairy production, deliberately obscuring the mechanics of the dairy industry— which include forced insemination, early culling of male calves, and a variety of other abhorrent practices about which we would prefer not to know. As long as we can be convinced that our milk or eggs are “humane,” we need not pursue the matter further. 

Kindness to animals can be used as a tactic in signaling a moral character in general.  In fact, Israel has been engaged in a more comprehensive “vegan-washing” in order to bolster its image as a just and peace-loving country. Along with other emerging social movements of interest to millennials, specific campaigns have been undertaken to promote Israel as a paradise for vegan living. Much has been made of the vegan options offered to the soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces, including vegan leather boots. Palestinian activists have of course pointed out the irony of compassionate vegan options when the state is occupying their land. They point out that Israel is one of the biggest consumers of animal foods in the world, and that proportion of vegans in Palestine is reported to be twice that of Israel.

In many ways, India’s famed vegetarian diet and promotion of “ahimsa” as a fundamental tenet of Hinduism has a flavor of humane-washing to it. Along with other spiritual practices and the prominence of MK Gandhi, much of the animal rights movement outside of India (and even within it) holds up Hinduism as a model of nonviolence and compassionate care. Leaders of animal rights organizations in the USA sign off their emails with “ahimsa,” name their organizations “Aum,” and are often pictured with its Sanskrit symbol or Mr. Gandhi displayed prominently behind them. However, when we look beyond the surface, we see that “ahimsa” is actually a humane hoax, a deliberate campaign of humane-washing that hides violence against other humans as well as animals. The academician Pratap Mehta stated that “The centrality of ahimsa in the Indian tradition was not a description of our non-violent history. Quite the contrary, it was a testament to the centrality of violence…. the discourse on ahimsa was more a sign of violence inherent in [our] society.”

The humane hoax of ahimsa is a little like Israel’s vegan-washing campaign, only hundreds of years older. Only a minority (about 30%) of Indians practice vegetarianism, and these are predominantly the privileged castes. Dietary habits are one of the most blatant caste markers today, both in India and in the diaspora. If the rest of the world thinks of India as a “vegetarian nation,” it is only because members of its privileged castes— who have had a public voice denied to those of lower castes— are vegetarian, and the privileged minority have been eager to represent India.

The priestly caste of Hinduism is called Brahmin, and the original precursor to what later became Hinduism was known as Brahminism. Scriptural sources indicate that both meat consumption and animal sacrifices were part of religious practices during early Brahminism (1500 BCE)— and that, at a later point, privileged castes (particularly Brahmins) switched to a vegetarian diet. Who were the Brahmins? Why did they establish a sacrificial culture, and why did they later eschew it for vegetarianism?

Various sources (including linguistic and genomic evidence) indicate that the Vedas were composed by “Brahmins”— identified in this case not as people indigenous to the subcontinent but as migrants from the Steppe grasslands of central Asia who began to settle in northern India 3,500 years ago.  The evidence suggests that the Steppe migrants imposed both sacrificial culture and the caste system on the indigenous peoples, who then began to rebel against both practices. Buddhism, the main opponent to Brahminical ideology, speaks against the injustice and irrationality of both the caste system and ritual animal sacrifice. In an attempt to overthrow the advancing threat of Buddhism, Brahmins decided to eschew meat in order to claim the moral high ground, as well as spiritual and bodily purity.

In other words, their reason for adopting vegetarianism was to ostracize others as “untouchable” and not compassion or desire for ahimsa. This is clearly explained by Dr. Ambedkar, India’s preeminent social reformer, in his book Who Were the Untouchables? (1948) and followed up by Dr Ilaiah Shepherd in the essay “Freedom to Eat” (Caravan India, 2019).[1] To quote Dr. Pratap Mehta again, “Behind the solicitude for the cow lay a visceral hate for beef eaters, as if the very gentleness towards the cow was merely a sublimated form of cruelty towards others.”  In addition, the scriptures are also very revealing with respect to how different human communities were ranked in relation to each other— and, most importantly for this context, how they were ranked in relation to other animals. In other words, certain communities were first degraded and banished, then further vilified for eating the only foods available to them, in an endless cycle of ritual humiliation. In the current day, the formerly “untouchable” are called “Dalit,” they number between 200 and 300 million and are among most oppressed people in India and the world.

Even if we choose to disregard the history of vegetarianism as described by Dr. Ambedkar and others, we know beyond any doubt that meat- and beef-eating is associated with the majority oppressed caste population (which includes Muslims as well as the caste oppressed), and it is very much denigrated in the present day by the oppressor castes. The tensions continue to play out as the current ruling party in India, the BJP, has applied stringent cow slaughter bans over progressively more and more Indian states. The BJP is the political wing of the fascist Hindu nationalist organization, the RSS, which proposes to impose Brahminical values on the people of India. Cow slaughter ban might look like ahimsa to outsiders, but actually the consequences of the ban are to further marginalize and criminalize Dalits, Muslims and other groups.  Over the last several years, the incidents of “cow vigilantism” have increased, where dozens of marginalized people have been killed and hundreds injured in mob violence upon the suspicion of eating beef or trading in cattle. Perpetrators of violence are punished by the government reluctantly, if at all.  

Not only are humans being harmed, but also neither cows nor buffalos are truly protected by the beef ban. India remains one of the top exporters worldwide of both cow and buffalo beef. There are many legal loopholes that allow animals to be slaughtered despite the beef ban. While small butcher shops run by the marginalized have been targeted and shut down, large slaughter plants continue to function. Recent reporting by The Caravan India indicates that oppressor Hindu castes (specifically Brahmins) are in charge of the surreptitious transport and selling of cows into slaughter. Taken together, the evidence indicates that the tenet of nonviolence undergirding Hindu vegetarianism is merely a “humane hoax” that hides violence towards animals— including humans. The beef ban and related vigilantism underscore the throughline of our history: using professed nonviolence towards nonhumans to oppress and brutalize other humans.

Many characteristics of humane-washing can be found in both modern US marketing campaigns and Brahminical vegetarianism. Let’s consider some of them.

The basic characteristic of the humane hoax is the manipulation of language to obscure the truth. The humane myth is essentially an example of doublethink: to have some intimation of the truth, but also to believe a carefully constructed lie that is its opposite. By definition, it uses language that obscures and even reverses the actual meaning of words. “Humane slaughter” is an oxymoron, as there is nothing humane about the involuntary and premature death of an animal. A product in the US can be “Certified Humane” but still allow many types of confinement and mutilation. “Cage-free” and “free-range” mean intense confinement; “happy cows” mean confinement, forced insemination and separation from new-born calves.

Cruelty, in other words, is termed as its opposite, kindness. In the same way, Hindu scriptures also contrived to turn himsa into ahimsa. While switching from animal sacrifices in the early Vedic scriptures to “ahimsa” branding, intermediate scriptures reinterpreted ritual killing as non-harm: “Manu asserts that animals were created for the sake of sacrifice, a that on ritual occasions is non-killing and injury as enjoined by the Veda is known to be non-injury.” The scripture goes on to add that Vedic sacrifices were not only not harmful, but a benefit that accrued to both the animals being sacrificed and the persons who are carrying out the sacrifice.

The second characteristic of the humane hoax is that is promulgated by groups or organizations who are otherwise predicated on the well-being of animals. The Humane Society of the United States, the most well-funded advocacy organization for animals in the US, is a major player in the humane hoax arena. HSUS (and similar organizations) often strike deals with the animal-killing industry and promotes its “happy meat.” By carefully crafting a brand founded on animal protection, the HSUS not only provides cover for the use and abuse of animals but also profits from it.

In the same way, being predicated on ahimsa, anything that a Brahmin does is automatically cleared of any suspicion. In recent times, having a Brahmin surname and identity has provided useful cover when smuggling cows to sell to slaughter. In the Caravan article on Hindu cattle-smuggling networks, Rajesh Prakash narrates:

“…the social worker… explained why Brahmins had an advantage when it came to transporting cattle. “It’s only the Brahmin caste that can come and go with the cow anywhere,” he said. “He will neither be caught nor killed in the name of cow protection, nor will the police arrest him. If a Brahmin is taking a cow to sell it for slaughter and someone stops him on the basis of suspicion, he can make an excuse that the cow has come as a donation from some village and he is taking it to some other village.”

The humane hoax offers exceptions for cruelty if they are supposed to serve some greater purpose that is vaguely but reverentially described. Authors like Michael Pollan talk about the intelligence and moral virtue of animals even as they relish hunting and eating them because it satisfies some delirious, quasi-spiritual concept of the Circle of Life. Some of the mystical language in the Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, may come right out of the Rig Veda or the Upanishads. For instance, Pollan writes, “Sun-soil-oak-pig-human: There it was, one of the food chains that have sustained life on earth for a million years made visible in a single frame, one uncluttered and most beautiful example of what is.”

In the Vedic literature, sacrificial rituals were undertaken to impose order on the universe. Even the creation of the cosmos was through sacrifice of Purusa, the primordial being, which gave existence to the four castes as well as the rest of creation. It says, “It was Purusa, born in the beginning, which they sprinkled on the sacred grass as a sacrifice.” The Upanishads, considered the most supreme and lofty of the Hindu scriptures, begins with comparing the sacrificial horse to the parts and processes of the material universe.

In the current day, a reworking of the humane myth certifies the cow (“gho”) as the “divine mother” to allow us to consume dairy despite the inherent exploitation.

“To the Hindus, the cow is sacred because it represents life and fertility. On account of the manifold usefulness of the cow, India has conferred a religious role upon the cow, having raised her to the status of a goddess, mother to one and all and an object of worship. In the appellation gho-mata, mata (mother) is more attached to cow than any other goddess in Indian mythology.

Owing to this reverential labeling, the cow becomes the most abused animal in the subcontinent. Even though Brahminism has eschewed meat sacrifices, it has adopted the use of dairy products in religious ceremonies— which is no less cruel. Cow’s milk, ghee, and yogurt are routinely used in temple ceremonies in copious quantities.[2] Because of the slaughter ban, dairy farmers who would normally sell “spent” dairy cows to slaughter are forced to set them free to roam because they cannot afford to feed them. These cows wander onto busy streets and fields where they suffer abuse. One of the most insidious and uniquely Indian form of abuse is “acid attacks,”  where stray cows are severely burned in an attempt to protect crops. 

In the Western animal rights community, we hold up Indian vegetarianism as a beacon of hope for animal protection. However, when we look beneath the surface, it appears that Hindu “ahimsa” is actually a humane hoax, because it was originally intended to marginalize human communities; that it continues to do so under the cow slaughter ban; and that, ultimately, it does not really protect animals. “Ahimsa,” like “cage-free eggs” or “happy meat,” is just another humane-washing term, intended to distract us from the underlying violence against sentient beings, humans and other animals alike. We do not do the animal rights movement any favors by continuing to adhere to this hypocrisy. The people oppressed by the professed “ahimsa” number in the hundreds of millions, and they are only too aware of the duplicity. They hold in contempt the bogus value ahimsa, which claims to protect animals at their expense.

As the animal rights movement continues to claim “ahimsa” as its slogan, the people who have been oppressed by it increasingly see the movement as hollow, superficial, and misguided. As freedom fighter Bhagat Singh as has said, we need to look behind the reason why Hindus worship nonhuman animals, but won’t let a fellow human sit next to them. As Dr. Ambedkar has said, we need to understand why Hindus have fed ants sugar while they deny Dalits drinking water. Ultimately, the animal rights movement needs the support of all humans, not just the privileged ones; and it is not going to get it with humane-washing terms that are used to alienate and degrade humans.


[1] See also Jotiba Phule’s 1885 book “Gulamgiri” (Slavery) for a similar account.

[2] * Dr Kancha Ilaiah has termed these wasteful practices  “anti-surplus generation mechanisms” – a way to prevent accumulation of surplus keeping the oppressed masses hungry and engaged in perpetual food production.

Rama Ganesan lived in Chennai until the age of 10, when she emigrated to the UK with her family. She then moved to the US in her twenties with her spouse. She received her BA from University of Oxford, a PhD from the University of Wales, and an MBA from the University of Arizona. She has two grown children, a dog and two cat companions. After reading “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer, Rama began to explore the philosophy of animal rights and veganism. Over time this developed into an interest in the common roots of oppression of both humans and animals. She can be found on Instagram and Medium.