Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Vegans Confusing Consumerism With Activism

The Vegan Vine; PETA's 13 Vegan Essentials
Necessity and activism as defined by PETA
An activist lamented the lack of participation at his fur protests: "I'm going to start organizing protests with the heading 'Vegan Food Event.' The numbers would quadruple," he said sarcastically. Another added, "Sad but true. Use 'Fest' too."

VegFests are all the rage and are popping up all over the country. Exposure to vegan foods and nonhuman sanctuaries is beneficial, but these are temperate events meant to peddle goods, not to advocate for the rights and freedom of other animals or inspire political and social activism. Instead of advising people to consume less, they push people to buy more and, in doing so, send the message that veganism is a personal, consumer choice, instead of a moral imperative.

The Tri-State VegFest held in Edison, New Jersey, last summer was sponsored by the Humane League, well known for its welfarist campaigns like persuading universities to switch to "cage-free" eggs. Instead of opposing the enslavement and killing of nonhumans and the violation of their moral rights, such campaigns seek only to make exploited nonhumans more comfortable, and their murders to appear less cruel.

The mastermind behind the NJ Tri-State VegFest was described on the website as "a natural-born entrepreneur" and the event was characterized as being "all about food, community, and entertainment. . ." A friend overheard another vegfest attendee speaking to a cutlery salesperson. "Which knife is best to use with [on] fish?" the guest asked. These functions are not exactly hubbubs of resistance. I'm not suggesting that we don't have vegfests, but I do think we should expect more of them and their participants.

The distinction between vegan activism and consumerism is becoming less and less apparent. Many have turned veganism into a trendy lifestyle, one that people feel they can take or leave whenever the mood strikes or a social affair beckons. Most vegan books and magazines cater to food and advertisers. They address clothing, travel, cosmetics, and other trivial nonsense as opposed to less glamorous topics like education, government policies, and critical thinking. Speciesist language, the animal-industrial complex, nonhuman rights, and other important issues are seldom, if ever, discussed.

Some people are intentionally shying away from using the word "vegan" and opting for "plant-based" instead because they think "vegan" is too controversial and off-putting. In one article, a woman bragged of being aligned with the "modern vegan movement" (?) in which she claimed no interest in nonhuman advocacy. If being content with nonhuman oppression and enslavement—and ashamed of the word "vegan" and the political charge it generates—means being aligned with this "modern vegan movement," then count me out.

Companies like Vaute Couture, which peddles $400 vegan sweaters, detract from ethical veganism and give the false impression that veganism is only for the privileged few. There are vegan gurus and now even a vegan flag, but veganism is not about us, about losing weight, or conspicuous consumption. The quest for nonhuman rights and emancipation does not require that you eat at the coolest vegan restaurant or carry the chicest vegan handbag. In fact, it doesn't require you to buy anything at all.

In "How Amanda Chantal Bacon Perfected the Celebrity Wellness Business" Molly Young noted "...this is what lifestyle gurus do. They insist on a connection between what you buy and who you are. And then they sell you stuff."

A woman on Facebook sent an urgent plea. "I need more AR [Animal Rights] gear," she said. "Spam me with your favorite shirts." At last count, she received recommendations for 19 T-shirts and one pair of slippers. My brief response to her request, connecting our nonstop consumption and subsequent waste and pollution of resources to the destruction of nonhuman lives and habitats, went unheeded.

Vegan or nonvegan, consumer-capitalism is largely driving the destruction of the natural world. Less consumption—not more—should be part of every ethical vegan's mantra.

"We must struggle politically and not merely as 'consumers'—a term which itself undermines our citizenship, our obligation to make policy," said David Cantor of Responsible Policies for Animals.

In "Animal Rights: Remedy to Trumpism" Cantor noted that deregulation and uninhibited capitalism are mainstays of the Trump administration and the radical right. However, both major parties are engines of capitalism and the Biocaust. They both "accept the basic humanist-extremist premises that only human beings are innately entitled to a chance at a fulfilling life; our pursuit of fulfillment needn't take other beings' experience or ecological value into account; our species' population explosion, its rampage over Earth, and its impacts on other animals and the living world are self-justified; and dividing 'the pie' among humans is their only responsibility."

Last year Daiya, the maker of vegan cheeses, sold their company to a Japanese pharmaceutical company that tortures and kills nonhuman persons under the guise of "research." Likewise, other vegan companies have sold out to nonvegan manufacturers—Silk, So Delicious, LightLife, and most recently Field Roast. Companies are not in the business of eliminating nonhuman oppression; rather, they're merely concerned with bolstering consumerism and the economic interests of their proprietors.

"Whilst veganism is a necessary step toward animal liberation, there is a presumption that buying products marked 'vegan' or 'cruelty-free' is the end game of the animal advocacy moment, but veganism on its own is limiting and not sufficient by itself to bring about animal liberation," wrote Lara Drew and Daniel Kidby in Animal Testing Giant Joins the Vegan Movement #Daiya. "The acquisition of Daiya is a reminder that corporations have no ethics, and that there are ethical implications when consuming anything within an economic system that encourages unlimited growth" and views the earth, nonhumans (both free-living and "domesticated"), and humans as mere capital to profit from and exploit.

Activists don't buy, they act. We mustn't confuse activism with vegan consumerism because we cannot liberate animals through the existing framework of the consumer-capitalist model. We don't need more goods, vegan or otherwise, that deplete resources, pollute ecosystems, fill landfills, and kill free-living nonhumans—we need less of everything.

"Veganism is played out and imagined as a revolutionary perspective of existence only as far as the standards set by capitalist colonial society, thereby restricting its very potential before it has even begun," wrote a.b. in "Alternate Realities" in Issue 12 of T.O.F.U. magazine.

Case in point, a chatty salesman from a local pizzeria stopped by the office on a particularly busy workday to drop off a brochure. In an attempt to dissuade him, I rather brusquely told him I was vegan and not interested. He said "We can make you a vegan pizza, we offer gluten-free dough." I told him that I'm not interested in avoiding gluten; I'm interested in avoiding products made with the bodies of animals. My being vegan meant nothing more to this man than an opportunity for him to sell me something.

The association of veganism with gluten-free seems like such an absurdity, but it is a comparison that is made often. Anna Charlton of the Abolitionist Approach addressed it in a recent webinar. "We have to shake the whole issue away from it [veganism] being just a casual consumer choice. All too many times . . . you talk about a vegan diet and people will ask if you're gluten free, too, as if those are similar considerations. . . Deciding to go vegan and choosing gluten-free bread are not the same thing and it's a shame that it's [veganism] degenerated into this casual consumer choice stuff."

At its crux, veganism is about avoiding and eliminating nonhuman exploitation whenever possible, but it is also about dismantling a system that depends and thrives on the ongoing enslavement and abuse of nonhuman lives. If we mean to advocate for nonhumans—not ourselves—we should do so in every capacity; reducing or eliminating our travel, our reproduction, consumption, "development," waste, staying educated, informed and engaging others, being politically active, remaining vigilant, and be willing to take a stand and speak out with our voices and deeds instead of our "vegans rule" T-shirts.

"It doesn't take more time to be vegan than not to be, and citizens have to make time for policy, the only means to eliminating consumer choices that shouldn't be available," Cantor told me in an email. "Progress requires undermining specious [and speciesist] ideologies of consumer-capitalism, which include the notion that the proper influence over policy by individual citizens is to 'vote with your wallet.' Serious animal and environmental advocacy has been very effectively undermined by that mode of thought."

"If we want an ethical society, we should fight for a social revolution," continued Drew and Kidby. "A social revolution is needed otherwise veganism will remain entrenched in a capitalist system that reinforces vegan lifestyle-ism rather than making veganism part of a movement to oppose the political, economic, and social systems which oppresses all life."

To commit to veganism is a defiant act, but it is just the starting point to a more nonviolent and just world. We need to educate, disrupt, resist, confront, and change institutions that shape policies and culture and make animal abuse possible in the first place. It's a tall order that requires discipline and courage . . . not vegan chocolate chip, cookie dough ice-cream.

Rights Campaigns

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Problem Vegans and Nonvegans Don't Want to Acknowledge

The Vegan Vine
Surrealist painting of industrialized human, artist unknown
Here are some frightening statistics from Population Matters:
  • There are now more than 7.5 billion humans on Earth. 
  • It took until the early 1800s for the human population to reach one billion. Now we add a billion humans every 12-15 years.
  • 10,000 years ago, humans made up 1% of vertebrate land animals. Today, free-living nonhumans make up just 1%. The other 99% are humans, our food-industry captives, and our domesecrated pets.
  • Populations of free-living nonhumans have halved since 1970, whereas the human population has doubled.

The human population crisis can be a contentious subject for many people. I touched briefly on it in a Facebook post a couple of years ago and managed to release all kinds of vitriol. I had noted that the best way to help the planet is to adopt a vegan diet and not have children. Some folks lost their minds and inferred that I was condemning them for the children they already had. My mere intention was to encourage people to rethink their future eating and breeding habits.

Last month a group of more than 15,000 world scientists concurred and issued a Second Warning to Humanity (since we didn't heed the first alarm back in 1992). They report that we are failing greatly to restrict human population and economic growth, among other threats, and that we must "re-examine and change our individual behaviors including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most) and drastically diminishing our per capita ­consumption of fossil fuels, meat [flesh], and other resources."

Some 20 years ago a college friend pointed out that choosing to procreate is a selfish and egocentric act. Like most human-centered speciesists, I didn't give it much thought, but it made a lot of sense. "Therefore because the [parent] has enjoyed sensual pleasure, the [child] must live, suffer, and die," scribed 19th century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.

People will go to great lengths to create mini-mes. The wealthier among us opt for technological extremes like In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), uterus transplants, or pay poorer surrogates to carry their children. And still—much like homeless nonhuman companions—the ranks of homeless human children in need of forever loving homes never seem to wane.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Book Reviews: Two Tales on Eating the Unthinkable

Under the Skin by Michel Faber and Animals by Don LePan couldn't be more different as far as stories go, but both authors have managed to spin two unique and compelling narratives from one identical, unimaginable act.

The Vegan Vine; Animals by Don LePanAnimals is a thought-provoking tale that takes place in the twenty-second century, long after the mass extinction of most nonhuman animals.

The novel follows a human child named Sam who is disabled and therefore, is considered inferior and deemed a mongrel. We follow Sam from his original family and his loving, but working poor, single mother's home to his newly adopted home with Naomi, a brave, young girl who sees Sam as more than just the family pet and takes him under her wing.

Animals is a great achievement as it intricately combines two fictional manuscripts written in the future by Naomi and Broderick Clark, Sam's oldest brother. Clark interjects throughout to explain how things used to be before there were mongrels.

Even though Animals is a work of fiction, LePan shows what life is really like for billions of nonhumans today by skillfully illustrating, via a futuristic lens, similar experiences through another species.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Vegans Are the Furthest Thing from Elite

The Vegan Vine; The New Yorker
I endeavor to live a simple life. I reside in a cozy, one bedroom apartment of 673 square feet. I earn a modest salary and rarely dine out, and I prefer to rent movies for free from the library. I don't subscribe to the latest fashions or fads, and last year I spent zero dollars on clothing, shoes, and accessories. In an effort to limit my impact on the planet and other animals, I try to curtail my consumption of goods and limit my travel. Those who know me and are familiar with my minimalist habits and vegan ways would not label me an elitist, yet that is often how vegans are mischaracterized.

By definition alone ethical vegans are not elitist for the simple fact that they hold little to no power or influence in the overarching animal-industrial complex that controls everything from communication and government to universities and major corporations. In fact, our efforts often run counter to and challenge the existing system of oppression upheld by the elite.

It's all too easy for non-vegans to bully and belittle minority vegans as elitist while defending and excusing their own unjust choices, which is ironic considering the forced labor of animals and the consumption of their murdered bodies, milk, and eggs elevate and sustain the upper classes. Here are some brief examples of interconnected scourges linked to financial interests in animal oppression:

Violence: Animal industries are inherently violent operations that function by remaining invisible. Animal products can only be consumed when animals are treated as merchandise—things. Supported by non-vegan dollars; the meat, dairy, fish, and egg industries profit from the forced breeding and killing of billions of beings every year. In addition, slaughterhouse workers have few options and do the revolting work of killing for those who won't do it themselves. In "Vegan in the Dairy State" Cori Mattli noted that "there is a high correlation with slaughterhouse work and post-traumatic stress disorder, severe anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, and domestic violence." Workers often become desensitized to the violence they are paid to inflict on other animals and society pays a steep price for accepting such unnecessary violence as routine. Towns harboring slaughterhouses have higher rates of domestic violence and violent crimes, including murder and rape.

War/Genocide: In his groundbreaking book, Animal Oppression and Human Violence, David A. Nibert expounded how the need for more resources to maintain nomadic herds of animals for food and labor has resulted in centuries of war and conflict. From Genghis Khan to today's commercial cattle ranching operations, the upper echelon continue to expand their capitalist interests through the manipulation and exploitation of land and animals. Nonhumans are continually used as sources of food, tools, and labor to support conflicts and conquests. The influx of cattle, sheep, horses, and other animals to North, Central, and South America from European explorers through the Columbian Exchange helped fuel military expeditions, warfare between native tribes, and genocide.  As the demand for beef (and land and water for sustaining cattle) increases—even now—so too do conflicts with indigenous groups (e.g. Darfur).

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Feeding Desires, Appetites for Destruction

The Vegan Vine; The Sexual Politics of Meat
From the cover of
The Sexual Politics of Meat
In my never-ending quest for self-improvement I've been working on not succumbing to cultural notions of femininity. As a straight, cisgendered woman, I've had to unlearn decades of programming, which has not been easy. Perhaps, just as difficult as for those attempting to unlearn cultural notions of what is—and who is not—food.

I spent 20 years eating what I had been instructed to eat and another 15 years doing all those things women have been trained to do—consciously and subconsciously—to be appealing to the opposite sex. Like most females, I've been objectified, but I've also treated other animals as objects. 

It’s been a slow but deliberate process in which I’ve unburdened myself from the lies and the liars, from being the consumer and the consumed, transitioning from the non-vegan oppressor to the vegan liberator of my own life and the lives of others. I still have a long way to go, but I'm on the potter's wheel.

At the age of 20 I began eliminating the bodies of animals from my intake. After learning about the dairy and egg industries, I aspired to remove the use of all animal products from every area of my life and home. I committed myself to ethical veganism, which had a snowball effect on my psyche. I became acutely aware of how animal enslavement impacts the environment, buoys economic inequality and capitalism, intersects sexism and racism, and affects my perception of myself, other animals, and institutions I had once revered. I discovered that being an ethical vegan is not merely about food, but about campaigning for animal rights and defending truth and social justice.

I began to see things anew after adopting a cat named Max from a local shelter. I abruptly quit smoking cigarettes having realized the hypocrisy in caring for other animals but not caring about my own animal self. I read Zoe Weil’s Most Good, Least Harm and rethought our concept of possessions and how the deleterious effects of consumerism and development are depleting our planet’s resources, and destroying lives and habitats. I have strived to void my home of meaningless things that rob me of time, energy, and money, and I seek to minimize the buying of new things that require still more resources. While doing so, I have also managed to end fruitless and corruptible relationships which have similarly stole my time, energy, and self-respect. When a boyfriend angrily demanded sex, insisting that I owed it to him because it was his birthday, I knew I had been reduced to a body with serviceable parts.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Should Ethical Vegans Invest in the Stock Market?

The Vegan Vine
Many people invest for retirement, often blindly, focusing on returns and not knowing what they're really investing in.

There was a time when I invested, too—before the economy tanked and before I saw Michael Moore’s documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story. But is investing conducive to ethical veganism?

As with all big purchases, before investing I did my due diligence. I started my financial education by subscribing to Money magazine, I read Suze Orman’s Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke, and subsequently researched various companies and funds.

I chose Vanguard to manage my investments after I learned they charge the lowest fees, but I was disappointed with the choices available to me. While I was able to find mutual funds that offered solid returns, they weren’t ethically agreeable since they included companies like Exxon Mobil, Johnson & Johnson, and Procter & Gamble, which are neither environmentally-friendly nor vegan. So I began to look into something called Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), an approach that considers social issues in addition to financial returns.

For centuries, people have been practicing consumer activism and have been making conscientious decisions about how to spend their money. The Quakers prohibited their members from participating in the buying and selling of humans through the slave trade; during the Civil Rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King advocated the boycott of businesses and corporations promoting segregation, and many peace activists protested against companies profiting off the war in Vietnam. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Media is No Friend to Animals

The Vegan VinePresidents tend to have a love-hate relationship when it comes to the press. After becoming President, Donald Trump declared that the media is the "enemy of the American people!" In reply, Presidential historian Michael Beschloss noted that Richard Nixon secretly told Henry Kissinger, his Secretary of State, that "the press is the enemy, the establishment is the enemy, the professors are the enemy."

Now, let me be clear. I am not a Trump supporter, nor do I agree with the President's belittlement of journalists and the press, but for very different reasons, I connected with both his and Nixon's statements through my vegan frame of reference.

In Inventing Reality: The Politics of News Media, Michael Parenti wrote "[T]he single most common form of media misrepresentation is omission." I notice this every day where animals are concerned. The local news station airs a story lamenting the closing of a famous New York City deli but fails to mourn for the myriad nonhuman animals whose bodies had been served up there as food; so-called environmental correspondents report on algae blooms and dead fish washing ashore but never connect it to factory farms and our meat- and dairy-centric diets; raging fires and floods attributable to human-induced climate change kill countless wild animals and ravage their natural habitats but all we ever hear about is the number of humans impacted and human homes destroyed, and while cute videos of black bears and cubs climbing trees and jumping into kiddie pools abound during the summer, gruesome photos of hunters smiling over their dead bodies during New Jersey's annual bear hunt rarely seem to make it on TV in the fall.

In an article in The Nation, "Progressives Need to Build Their Own Media," Mark Hertsgaard addressed the enormous power the media have in defining reality. "The journalistic choices of news organizations send a message, consciously or not, about what is—and isn't—important at any given moment and who should—and shouldn't—be listened to. . . . Such decisions shape the ideological air we breathe and the . . . actions we take."

The roots of our cruel and manipulative animal abuse culture run deep. Animal abuse is built in to our infrastructures, and packaged and sold through the media in everything from entertainment, news, and advertising, to sports and weather. Sure, the word vegan is thrown around in the media much more today than ever before, but the net gain to these shout-outs have been marginal at best because the ethics of veganism is rarely broached and being vegan is still seen as a personal lifestyle choice, not a rightful necessity. In the media's eyes, veganism is about restriction, turning mushrooms into burgers, and mocking tofu, purposefully devoid of any genuine discussion on animal rights and social justice.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Taking on the Angry Vegan Stereotype

The Vegan Vine
When I was in my early twenties I was obsessed with the original Star Trek series. I was even somewhat of a Trekkie, having attended a Star Trek Convention in New York City (sans costume). My fascination with the show centered on Spock. While I admit I found his pointy ears and Vulcan eyebrows irresistible, there was something else about Spock that enamored me to him. After much consideration, I realized that I envied Spock for being my paradox: a measured and unemotional being who keeps his human passions from overwhelming him. While human rage and pain have always been part of Spock's makeup, he mostly kept them well-contained and controlled.

For a passionate and emotional person like myself, keeping my feelings even and steady when discussing dire social issues is not my strong suit. After all, it is my zealous spirit along with my desire to eradicate social inequities that have brought me to veganism and have allowed me to channel my emotions more productively through animal advocacy.

Most ethical vegans are continuously looking for opportunities to strike up conversations in order to educate others on how their decisions affect the lives of other animals. For many of us, we may be the only vegans our friends, coworkers, and family members know, so they look to us to be a model of veganism. Because there are so few committed, ethical vegans, there is a lot of pressure to present well to others. For example, my friend worries about the way she looks and fears being overweight gives a misleading reflection of what it means to be vegan. I agonize over my interactions with unconscious defenders of animal ab(use) since I want to be as effective as I can be for animals. 

What a vegan looks or acts like can vary greatly because we are all unique. Furthermore, considering the colossal, entangled system of animal abuse and the insidious nature with which the animal-industrial complex is promoted and permeates every area of life, it's difficult not to show anger or frustration, especially when people respond crassly and defensively to facts. 

In Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World, A Guide for Activists and their Allies, Pattrice Jones reminds us that—first and foremost—we are animals and to be effective we must embrace our animal emotions, not suppress them. As vegans, it is understandable to feel shame for the methodical suffering we recognize and often witness as a result of daily human activities; we are permitted to feel isolated and lonely when we can't find other vegans with whom to share our grief; we are justified in feeling mournful because of the sweeping violence and death needlessly inflicted on animals, and we are certainly within our right to feel enraged at the levels of human greed and indifference.