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

The Chinese Doctor Who Advocated Tofu for the US War Effort

According to the Smithsonian, Benjamin Franklin, an inventor, gastronome, and “founding father” of the United States introduced tofu in the mid-18th century. Likely not having had any direct experience with the product himself, he only mentions it in a letter composed to a colleague. In the letter, he discusses his research of a Dominican friar’s account of Chinese cuisine with specific mention of “teu-fu” as an intriguing type of cheese.

One has to wonder why the huge population of Chinese immigrants might not be credited with this honor. The first wave began in 1815, and, surely, these folks would have brought knowledge of their own traditional foods. Unlike Franklin, they would have had a great familiarity with soy.

In any case, the efforts of a Chinese doctor can certainly be credited for an all-out campaign to introduce and popularize soy at the height of the first world war. The first Chinese woman to earn a medical degree in the US, Yamei Kin collaborated with the American government in its search for efficient and nutritious foodstuffs in a time of great scarcity.

Dr. Kin insisted that the US stood to greatly benefit from Chinese soy (and Chinese culture more broadly) and the many creative dishes it could render. She was also clear that the intense anti-Chinese sentiment of the era, coupled with imperialist stereotypes that characterized Asians as malnourished and weak, should be challenged. Indeed, she was quite aware that the diet of the Chinese nation had much to do with American nativism:

The chief reason why people can live so cheaply in China and yet produce for that nation a man [sic] power so tremendous that this country must pass an Exclusion act against them is that they eat beans instead of meat.

New York Times. 1917. “Woman Off to China as Government Agent to Study Soy Bean: Dr. Kin.” New York Times, June 10, p. 65.

Although she was raised in Japan and spent considerable time in the US, she was an ardent advocate of her native China. More specifically, she busied herself aiding girls and women of the country, making regular return trips in service to feminism.

Kin herself was not vegan, but she was certainly critical of meat and dairy. The world, she explained,

cannot very well afford to wait to grow animals in order to obtain the necessary percentage of protein. Waiting for an animal to become big enough to eat is a long proposition. First you feed grain to a cow, and, finally, you get a return in protein from milk and meat. A terribly high percentage of the energy is long in transit from grain to cow to a human being. […]

Instead of taking the long and expensive method of feeding grain to an animal until the animal is ready to be killed and eaten, in China we take a shortcut by eating the soy bean, which is protein, meat, and milk in itself.

New York Times. 1917. “Woman Off to China as Government Agent to Study Soy Bean: Dr. Kin.” New York Times, June 10, p. 65.

She sympathized a bit with the animals themselves. In an interview with St. Louis Post-Dispatch Sunday Magazine, she explains:

The trouble with vegetarians was that they expected us to eat such awful things. I’m not a vegetarian, but I must admit that I find great satisfaction in being able to sit down to most of my meals without facing the fact that I am eating slices of what was once a palpitating little animal, filled with the joy of life. I shouldn’t be surprised if the soy bean will save the lives of many American animals.

Kin developed tofu provisions for the war effort and successfully taste-tested them with soldiers. Unfortunately, logistical difficulties in procuring and transporting soy prevented its largescale adoption.

American experiments with soy as a potential savior of the nation’s nutrition would persist after the war. We also have George Washington Carver to thank for this. A scientist and food inventor who had been born into slavery, he is most often celebrated for popularizing the many ways to cook with peanuts. He did the very same with soybeans.

Tofu did not take off in American cuisine until the 1960s thanks to the hippie commune movement. Residents began making tofu (and soy milk) on-premises to feed the community. Some of these folks went on to start businesses as the commune movement came to an end and the back-to-the-land bohemians went back to their 9 to 5’s. The popularity of “natural foods” that persisted thereon catapulted soy into the American imagination, where it remains today.

It is a rocky love affair. Soy is increasingly vilified for its environmental impact, particularly when it is grown as a monoculture. However, the vast majority of soy that is produced today goes toward livestock feed, completely undermining the original vision of Kin and Carver. America’s hamburger culture, sadly, would come to prominence. The dream of a tofu nation populated by liberated animals and fortified humans would not fully materialize. Not yet, anyway.

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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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).


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