Thursday, December 25, 2008

Privilege: The U.S. Vegan Movement, Whiteness, and Race Relations (part 3)

In the
last post, I described some of the reasons how and why the animal and veg*n movement(s) are alienating to people of color. In summary, U.S. vegans present themselves as middle-class, single-issue activists who think they have the one truth which all others should accept, yet, dismiss other humans’ struggle against their own oppression as marginal. Not only do they avoid race by promoting “color-blind” politics (which only makes race issues invisible), some may be explicitly racist and colonialist by targeting an entire country and/or culture for “cruel” practices with little effort or care to assist those within those cultures who are working on similar campaigns. I recommended that middle-class white American vegans need to engage in empathetic dialogue with people of color, the working class, and “foreign” countries/cultures as the first step for establishing better inter-racial relations, respect, and furthering veganism.

In part three and four of this series, I will discuss how, beyond alienating and offending people of color who are not (yet) vegans, “a lack of race-consciousness has [also] made invisible those people of color who are already vegans.” VOC, despite being indispensable fellow members in the AR and veg*n movement(s), are nonetheless persistently marginalized and deeply hurt by how they are identified by fellow vegans as exotic Others whose own everyday oppression must come second for the sake of liberating animals. If there were only one reason—and don’t get me wrong, there are a sh*t ton—many white vegans ought to become more conscious of their race privilege, it is to end the hurt and alienation their ignorance causes their partners and allies to experience.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Racial and Colonial Politics of Meat-Eating (part 2)

Colonialism: Cattle, Class, and Hunger
Tragically, the genocidal imperialist policies of the United States did not cease at the end of the 19th century. David Nibert, who in Animal Rights/Human Rights (
2002) argues that human and animal rights cannot be fully achieved within consumer capitalism, notes that 20th century American agricultural interest in Guatemala and other Central American countries resulted in the deaths and disappearances of tens of thousands of people.[17] The United States supported and helped install dictators in order to secure land from which to extract agricultural resources, mostly fruit and beef. Communities of people were uprooted and displaced from their land as U.S. corporations and regional elite bought or leased it until only 3 per cent of Guatemalans owned 70 per cent of the arable land.[18] In the Amazon, competition over land has resulted in the cattle ranchers appropriating forest from the indigenous and forcing them into slavery.[19]

The Racial and Colonial Politics of Meat-Eating (part 1)

Contrary to the perceptions of many Americans whom I have met, a plant-based diet is not isolated to a middle-class white elite in Anglo-American countries; it is quite common among people of color if one is to take into account countries outside of Europe and former British rule. The invisibility of the much more common plant-based diet is in part a product of most U.S. Americans’ deficient education in world geography, culture, and history. Further, because many East Asian and Latin American restaurants in the USA have menus filled with meat-centered entrees, many white Americans falsely assume that those animal-based dishes are commonly eaten within their countries of origin, forgetting that restaurant meals, gourmet food, and meat are primarily foods for the middle and upper class (the minority).

According to World Watch, collectively a person in industrial nations (most likely an affluent white person) will consume on average three times the flesh of mammals and birds as someone from developing nations (most likely a poor person of color), and a person in the U.S. will consume five times that amount. [1*] When fish and dairy are taken into consideration, Western Europe becomes the world’s largest consumer of animal products. [2*] In both cases, with the exception of Japan (a huge fish consumer) and a few South American countries (Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay—huge beef consumers), people of color have very little access to animal products. Of course, much of this distribution is related to class--which only further highlights the intersections of speciesism, nationalism, racism, and classism.

Not until after WWII have US Americans had "privileged" access to cheap, fast, subsidized “meat.” Most Americans seem to have little conscious that only a little over one hundred years ago, almost 90 per cent of American resided in rural areas[
1] and chicken was as expensive as shrimp and eaten in only 1/100th of the quantity today.[2] In an interesting reversal, today the poor commonly lack geographic and/or financial access to fresh produce. Recent studies have shown that even in in the agricultural state of Iowa, rural people have limited access to food, living in what are called “food deserts”[3]—a situation more associated with poor intercity neighborhoods.[4].

The privilege assigned to meat by the U.S. federal government is very evident in a graphic from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine that juxtaposes the federal subsidies pyramid with the federal nutrition recommendation pyramid: while over one-third of one’s servings should come from fruits and vegetables, these foods receive less than one percent of federal subsidies, while meat and dairy receive almost three-fourths. [3*] Even when made more affordable, nutritious whole plant-based foods are neither affordable enough nor culturally valued enough to overthrow meat and dairy as the centerpieces of the American diet. Even with a 10-percent subsidy on fresh produce, low-income Americans would still not be eating the dietary recommendations of fruits and vegetables.[4*]

In the following post I will examine--following Carol Adams analysis of the “sexual politics of meat”--the racial and colonial politics of meat (and milk). Unlike previous discussions of the topic such as The Dreaded Comparison (
1996), I will not cover the psychological and analogous dimensions of racial/interspecies oppression, but rather the structures of Northern, American, White, and middle-class privilege that drive the intersections between the subordination of non-human animals and non-white human animals.

My intent is to show how Anglo-Saxon cultures have juxtaposed themselves to other cultures and “races” through their diets, establishing themselves as the human identity and others as essentially deviant and ethically marginal. Further, I describe the historical and ecological relationship between animal exploitation, colonialism, and the genocide of Amerindians. Finally, I put forth evidence that people of color within the United States (and in other countries) are still marginalized and whose lives are put at risk in order to increase the profits of animal-exploiting, multi-national corporations.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Privilege: The U.S. Vegan Movement, Whiteness, and Race Relations (part 2)

In the first part in this series on privilege and veganism, I analyzed the poor reception of PeTA’s “Are Animals the New Slaves?” exhibit and the general use of human and non-human oppression analogies. [14] I concluded that outreach efforts like these

ought to cast the vegan movement into dire reflection. The reaction the exhibit received signifies a severe shortcoming in the general movements tactics and social consciousness—even for those who do not generally like PETA. Much of vegan discourse and tactics are engendered with implicit racism and classism… of the preferential kind that caters to a white middle-class audience… It is assumed that only white, English-speaking middle-class people really care about animals; only they are the enlightened heroes. [14]
I can imagine some people still thinking “Wait! Most animal/vegan activists I know are not racist, don’t like PeTA, and would never use these tactics. The racist, sexist, and discursive practices of some vegans don’t represent the whole vegan movement!” Perhaps this is true, but I am more inclined to disagree. If anything the inverse is true. The general vegan movement is obliviously “white;” it has neither condemned the racism of demonizing and/or fetishizing foreign nations and cultures nor has it put forth significant effort into respectful vegan outreach in communities of color.

In the following sections I will explore how the animal/vegan movement(s) systemically ostracize people of color (which is arguably a symptom of institutional racism)—most often without any consciousness of doing so.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Privilege: The U.S. Vegan Movement, Whiteness, and Race Relations (part 1)

My aim in this series on privilege is to examine the (not so) invisible whiteness of the “vegan” movement. In the subsequential posts, I hope to educate fellow advocates who have not thought much, if at all, about white privilege and how it not only ostracizes vegans of color, but also alienates potential vegans and allies from joining the movement. The first post in this series will focus on one of the most controversial (and obvious) demonstration of race-relations gone wrong, then the following ones will delve more into the dynamics in everyday vegan advocacy.

“Are Animals the New Slaves?”

In the summer 2005, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PeTA] began a traveling exhibit entitled "
The Animal Liberation Project" [NOTE: This is an updated version of the ALP. Also see the UK versions] in which it was asked, “Are Animal the New Slaves?” The original exhibit, composed of images from the Cambodian genocide, exploitative child labor practices, and enslaved and lynched American slaves to photos of nonhuman animal bodies in like contexts, attempted to manifest the conceptual connections between the oppression of human groups and the oppression of animals in the minds of its audience. However, after only a month on the road, the exhibit was suspended after major outrage ensued in New Haven, Connecticut.

Not only did students begin shouting at PeTA’s staff that the exhibit was racist, but predominant Afro-American organizations joined in the outrage at the juxtapositions being made. For instance, Scott X. Esdaile, the president of the regional NAACP, arrived at the exhibition in order to demand its removal. He declared that “[o]nce again, black people are being pimped. You used us. You have used us enough." [

Vakiya Courtney, executive director of America’s Black Holocaust Museum was particularly outraged, as Dr. James Cameron, the founder of the museum, was one of the men in a noose being juxtaposed to slaughtered steers. "How can you possibly compare the brutality that our ancestors... that people like Dr. Cameron had to overcome," she asked, "to animal cruelty?" [

Dr. Cameron, the only living survivor of a lynching in America, acknowledged that he was "treated like an animal" at the beginning of the century, but that "there is no way we should be compared to animals today… You cannot compare the suffering… I experienced to the suffering of an animal." [

In response to one person’s outrage, Ingrid Newkirk, the president and cofounder of PeTA, wrote that she can and should make such comparisons despite the outrage of millions of Afro-Americans “because it is right to do so and wrong to reject the concept. Please open your heart and your mind and do not take such offense” [
2]. While PeTA’s exhibit may have been created with good intentions, Newkirk’s remarks, on the contrary, were strikingly insensitive toward the Afro-American community whose ancestors were enslaved not 150 years ago and who still to this day struggle with dehumanization and subordination in America. Later, Newkirk went on to "unequivocally apologize for the hurt" after realizing that "old wounds can be slow to heal and for not helping them to heal, I am sorry." [1*] The NAACP spokesperson, John White, in response to Newkirk's decision to continue the project said simply, "I'm not surprised." [1*]

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Got Breast Milk?: Interspecies Suckling

Would You Drink Breast Milk Ice Cream?
Not long ago, Hans Locher, the landlord of the Swiss restaurant Storchen, announced he intended to serve soup, sauces, and even antelope steak in a glaze that contained up to 75% human breast-milk content. The idea came to him 35 years before when he experimented cooking with his wife’s surplus milk. Locher offered US$14.50 for a liter of human milk, but his aspirations were squashed by the Swiss government: "Humans are not on the list of authorised milk suppliers such as cows or sheep."

In response to the international news on Locher’s proposal, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), sent out a letter to Ben & Jerry’s, requesting that they begin to integrate human milk into their product. (Using human milk for human food isn’t the newest idea). Ben & Jerry’s then sent PETA a letter of their own. They wrote: "We applaud PETA's novel approach to bringing attention to an issue, but we believe a mother's milk is best used for her child." A woman who was later interviewed at the Ben & Jerry’s factory was grossed out by the suggestion, especially after having to deal with nursing her own children: “The (breast) pumps just weren't that much fun. You really do feel like a cow.”

In all the buzz, Americans really didn’t understand PETA’s intentions. The letter was in jest, a clever way of getting the press to not only inform the public on the perils of drinking cow’s milk, but also to rattle some awareness into people that “cow’s milk is for baby cows.” Ben & Jerry’s letter summarized PETA’s point to the tee: “Mother’s milk is best used for her child.” In other words, stop making ice cream with the milk of mother cows; calves should be drinking cow’s milk, not human adults!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Origins of HEALTH: The Sprouting of a Future

6. Crisis of Identity
Many vegans and vegetarian I know tell me that they got involved with “animal rights” only after they were first involved with human rights. For me, however, it was the opposite. Sometimes I joke that I came through “the backdoor” of the house of social justice. To me, “the environment” was the most important issue. Despite knowing relatively little about local ecosystems and plants as well as the principles of ecology, I thought I felt a deep connection and obligation toward this Other. Again, to me, all humans were equivalent to one another.

In the winter of 2004, the beginning of my second semester, a student would return to Beloit from her semester abroad and set my down a new path in life. Her name was Annie, a member of the OEC who had just returned from a field studies program in Tanzania. She was the second vegan that I knew personally—the first was Rachel, someone who I met during my first week at Beloit. After the first meeting of the semester, I chatted with her about her experiences in Tanzania and somehow the topics of animal rights came up. I told her I had always wanted to see how animals were treated before they were made into food, how they were slaughtered. She lent me a video, which I brought back to my dorm and placed into the VCR. One of my friends, who had just finished watching the Meatrix, decided to join me. In a way, I expected the film to inspire me to commit to vegetarianism—I wanted it too--,but I grievously underestimated the impact it would have on my life.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Origins of HEALTH: The Milieu of Modernity

3. The Misanthropic Defense
Somwhat ironically, I had become vegetarian because I cared about the individuality of animals, yet the token environmentalist in me was really just concerned about species—hence the irony in my desire to be a vegetarian hunter. In high school, I tried to rationalize myself out of animal activism. It wasn’t the individual that mattered, but the ecosystem. Thinking about individuals was narrow-minded. The big picture was what was important. These sentiments, however, I do not believe came out of some (ir)rational void; they had emerged from a very particular social milieu. These feelings of detachment from other individuals and the care I felt toward them never existed within the first year or so of going vegetarian.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Origins of HEALTH: The Foundational Years

This is the first post in a trilogy in which I will share my own personal narrative of how I arrived to the moral position I hold today. This essay comes out of a
Moral Values presentation I was invited to give at my college as a person who had an active presence on campus.

You may be wondering, "What exactly does this have to do with coalition building, veganism, and feeding the world?" Good question! These will all be answered if you read through the posts. But the main reason I am posting this autobibliographical information is because I believe in the power of narrative. Narrative allows us the unique opportunity to understand another in a way few other things can. Through, narrative we see each other first as people and then as--perhaps in my case--vegans, privileged males, (eco)feminists, crazy liberals, etc. Thus, stories break through political divisions and present a face to which we are invited to ethically respond to (i.e.
Levinas). So whatever our opinion is on killing animals and free trade, this is an opportunity to delve into someone else's history of ideas, to see "where they are coming from."

We are indeed narrative creatures. Many philosophers are of the opinion that it is through telling stories that make us the most human, although I'll let you decide on that one. Hannah Arendt discusses in her The Human Condition the power of storytelling as political action, behavior that has a beginning but no ending. Stories are told and retold, each retelling a new interpretation. In fact, there are clinical psychologists who promote
narrative therapy as a way of treating anxieties, because how we tell stories, how we choose to end them, and which ones we choose to tell shape our self-perception, our very identity. The following is not just my story, but a small slice of a larger story. We never have ownership of these stories, they are born in communities and transcend the life of the narrator... Really, though, I hope people may find some valuable knowledge in this story as I have. Through stories, we discover things about others, as well as about ourselves. Stories can also provide inspiration. As you'll read, I did not choose a vegan lifestyle until I was 19 because (other than being ignorant of animal agribusiness) I knew of no stories to provide me with guidance. If you've ever been veg*n, you'll know how much most of us enjoy learning others' journeys.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Ask not what our HEALTH can do for us; ask what we can do for our HEALTH

Welcome to the first official web site for HEALTH (Humans, Earth, and Animals Living Together Harmoniously). This blog will be devoted to
  1. challenging and exposing the interrelated institutional prejudices that plague “modern” cultures: sexism, racism, classism, speciesism, ethnocentrism, nationalism, heterosexism, and naturism. This will be achieved through a) systems thinking, b) cultural criticism of discourse and policies, and c) the deconstruction of popular conceptions of the human, the animal, the body, and the environment.

  2. promoting ecologically sustainable and prejudice-free societies and philosophies as more healthful alternatives to the ones that presently dominate the West. On an individual level, HEALTH advocates whole food plant-based diets (i.e. veganism) because of their freedom from speciesism, their comparatively smaller ecological footprint, and their wholesomeness for human bodies. HEALTH also supports the collective movement from intensive agribusiness to veganic agriculture and permaculture, monocultures to polycultures, sea animal farming to sea plant farming, lawns to vegetable gardens, grocery chains to farmers’ markets and CSAs, corporations to cooperatives, from fast food to slow food, etc.

  3. facilitating coalition building between social and environmental justice movements and organizations to build activist bases, develop larger activist networks, and catalyze discussions. For instance, animal welfare, human rights, and environmental health issues all arise from the intensive animal agribusiness that exists today. By uniting, we achieve much greater power and awareness.

  4. fostering critical discussion among and sharing fresh ideas with others who care so that each may learn from one another without fear of being silenced. Each one of us can contribute valuable knowledge and perspective, deepening our empathy and strengthening our case for a sustainable, prejudice-free flourishing community.

  5. developing new discourses for non-confrontational and non-judgmental engagement with the moral intuitions of those overlooked and/or ostracized by many activists from certain causes (because they are seen as “unenlightened” due to their race, class, culture, religion, and/or politics). The more discussion on these issues and fresh ideas for coalition building, tactics, and prejudice-free theory, the more empowered we will become. All suggestions for post topics and discussions on essays, articles, and news stories are welcome—all you have to do is send me an email. If you’re interested in contributing, I’ll consider that as well.
I love hearing from you! Leave a comment or send me an email...