August 20, 2007

Then I Handed In My Super-Secret Abolitionist Decoder Ring and Went Home

Posted in abolition, animal rights, veganism at 1:56 pm by nevavegan

Mary Martin, a self-admitted abolitionist recently called it “the a-word.” I sympathize. I would consider myself an abolitionist, and yet there are times when maybe I don’t measure up? I’ve seen a number of arguments lately against arguing from environmentalism, or arguing against vivisection on non-ethical grounds (like my recent post on how stupid some animal experiments are). Those methods, according to some, fall short, because they don’t emphasize animal issues from a rights point of view.

What does it all come down to? I think people should be vegan. I think veganism is the only ethical way to live in this world, the world we have, not the ideal world we make up in our heads to excuse our own shortcomings.

I think that to promote veganism we should be honest. We shouldn’t downplay the plight of the animals because the horror of it upsets people. We shouldn’t tell people untruths about veganism or give poor nutrition advice. We shouldn’t pretend we are perfect. But we should face our fellow humans as humans and tell them what we know and what we understand and hope that at least part of that message sinks in.

I don’t think we can promote veganism by praising people for using slightly less awful methods of slaughtering, nor do I think we can promote veganism by giving free advertising to restaurants that don’t really serve vegan food but now use cage-free eggs.

I don’t think we can promote veganism by being degrading to people, whether that means the exploitation of women, or trying to trick people into veganism by capitalizing on their desire to be thin alone. For what it’s worth everyone I’ve known personally who became vegan only to lose weight gave it up because they were looking at it as another diet and then a new fad diet came along and they decided to try that one. Which is not to say that people can’t be motivated by their own desire for health, I’m just not sure the pursuit of thinness alone is enough. But others have told me they knew people who were only vegan for health reasons who stuck with it, so my experience doesn’t define everyone’s, I guess.

But when it comes to promoting veganism I’m going to open up the toolbox and use every tool at my disposal that I don’t find unethical. I think animals have a basic right not to be bred and brought into this world simply to be used and killed for our taste buds or amusement. That’s basic. But I’m going to throw the suffering argument in too. Then I’m going to throw the environmental reasons at my audience. If they want to talk religion, I’ll talk religion. If they’re concerned about health I’m going to reassure them that veganism is healthy. There are lots of reasons to be vegan. There’s really, as far as I’m concerned, one ethical way to view animals. However, it takes a radical re-thinking of our current world view to get there, so I’m all for using everything we have. I’m not against appealing to every reason and every emotion, I just use those things toward veganism, not toward promoting Burger King.


August 14, 2007

More on Peta, Welfare, NeoCarns, Oh my!

Posted in abolition, animal advocacy, animal rights at 12:22 am by nevavegan

Today Bruce Friedrich posted a response to the inspiring essay by Jenny Stein and James LaVeck. Bruce’s response is here on Animalblawg.

Having discussed this issue many times I’m disappointed to see the repetition of the idea that those who advocate for abolition OPPOSE welfare reforms. I know of nobody who opposes larger cages or more humane slaughter methods, quite the contrary.

What is at issue is whether or not the largest and best known animal advocacy groups are in essence putting a seal of approval on certain “humane animal products” by declaring minor (though certainly positive) reforms as major victories. Or to put this another way, as I’ve said many times before: if PeTA gives an award to the designer of a slaughterhouse does that give the general public the impression that what goes on at that slaughterhouse is morally acceptable?

I know that Bruce has previously answered this question as no, he does not believe that the word “award” conveys approval or endorsement. He and I just see this differently as I do feel that the words “award” and “victory” imply that the fruits of those victories, ie the animal products coming from those award winning slaughterhouses have the PeTA seal of approval on them.

I admire Bruce’s work greatly and am thrilled that he saw fit to reiterate his position that there is no such thing as a humane animal product in his recent article. My admiration doesn’t change the fact that I’m troubled by some of the wording in some recent campaigns, some from PeTA, more from HSUS and other groups.

This might be a simple difference in personal philosophy. I think that we can set the bar high and keep telling people that veganism is the only choice for people who love animals. The industry can then respond to that as they see fit, which would hopefully be to push through humane reforms on their own. In addition there are groups, like AWI or the farmers on the panel at TAFA who have no other goal than these welfare reforms and can continue to push for them. I would see this as “both ends against the center” with animal rights groups and activists pressuring the consumers with a message that veganism is the only humane choice, and then with the animal welfare side pressuring the industry to reform. But we all need to determine our own role in this and try to act in accord with our own integrity. Feeling that it’s a positive thing that others are pushing for welfare reforms isn’t necessarily an indication that we need to put the majority of our energy or financial resources into pushing for those reforms ourselves.

To imply that people who do not work toward welfare reforms are not acting in accord with the golden rule is somewhat insulting. As is the comparison of our view to the current regime in Iran. We all interpret this differently, often in keeping with our own experiences. But my views do stem from caring and I do often try to put myself in the position of the animal, as imperfect as that approach may be. I also recognize that how I’ve felt in certain situations, or my projection in trying to imagine how I would feel may not determine the best long term strategies for the movement as a whole.

But it is valuable to the welfare side to continue to paint abolitionists as bumbling morons who lack empathy. Because it is easy to dismiss our views if you feel we are stupid, immoral, or misinformed. What I see going on in the movement though is a deliberate effort to marginalize activists who do advocate for abolition. TAFA saw fit to include “humane” farmers who presented saccharine accounts of killing animals. We were assured that these animal exploiters were included because we’re all on the same side. However, those promoting abolition or with doubts about the Whole Foods, Humane Certified, small family farmers theme were excluded from the conference. So there was a range of views presented, but heavily skewed in one direction, with one whole end of the spectrum chopped off as if it didn’t exist.

I do wish we had decent studies on the topic of how people interpret and respond to animal welfare reforms, because I would be swayed by hard data. However there is a tendency within the movement to confuse correlation and causation. For example I often hear people repeat that humane reforms lead to more vegetarians because the countries with the most vegetarians have the most humane laws. This is correlation, not causation. It’s equally likely that vegetarians push for humane reforms, or that some other third factor in the population leads to increases in both.

For me personally I don’t feel it’s my role to make people feel better about continuing to eat animals. As with any of us as activists, my thought stem from my own experiences. I came from an agricultural background and never even remotely thought there was anything wrong with killing animals, so long as it was done “humanely.” I became a vegetarian in my teens reluctantly because I was upset about the practices of large scale animal agriculture. Once I stopped eating animals I was able to take a step back from a belief system I’d been steeped in and realize the problems with the entire practice of breeding, raising, and slaughtering animals for food. Had anyone told me during this time that I could happily eat free range chicken, I’m sure I would have done so.

This is not to say that the animals need to suffer the worst abuses so people like me can wake up and see the light. Instead I’m saying that I really feel I’m vegan today because I wasn’t told that free range chicken, grass fed beef, or cage free eggs were huge victories. Worse, when we declare reforms by fast food chains as victories, when those animals are still treated in a way that just defies the imagination of most average consumers, are we putting a stamp of approval on fast food products? Keep in mind that the declaration of victory with Burger King went out on every major newswire and even made the TV news and got commentary on talk shows. Bruce’s essay stating that he is for welfare reforms but still feels there is no humane meat, that went out on two major blogs. That’s a large audience, but clearly not as large as the audience that heard that Burger King is now humane.

I value the honesty of the PeTA pamphlets and mailings I got when I was younger that kept telling me over and over that veganism was the only option to end the suffering of non-human animals. I took a half-way step and became vegetarian before becoming vegan, but I was never told that this was ok, that this was the end of my journey. PeTA set the bar incredibly high–a life where compassion had to touch every aspect from my plate to my shoes to my shampoo. PeTA also never wavered from the idea that every single person who got a pamphlet from them was capable of achieving this.

I try to approach others as I would want to be approached, with complete honesty and openness on the issues. I don’t chase people down and call them names, or act unkindly toward them, because I’ve been there and then some, but I do let them know how I see the situation. In keeping with that I would not feel I was treating another human being the way I myself would want to be treated if I pre-judged them as too unkind, too lacking in compassion, or too ignorant to understand the basic concept that animals are not ours to use. It is a radical concept, it takes some getting used to, but if I can get it I really believe that almost anyone can.

I know Bruce employs the same respect and honesty with other people when he gives presentations or talks to people one on one, of course. But I return to my earlier point that the campaigns for welfare reforms and the subsequent declarations of victory may send a different message to the average consumer. Particularly as PeTA has the reputation of being the hard line on opposing animal cruelty, so if even PeTA thinks Burger King is awesome, then shouldn’t we all eat there?

May 24, 2007

Tackling Taking Action for Animals

Posted in abolition, Francione, rant, TAFA, vegan at 4:36 pm by nevavegan

Warning: Rant ahead, mind the curves

Something has been brewing in my mind for a while, and the main side effect of that is to make me horribly depressed… Sigh. Mainly this seemed to be something beyond even my ability to blog. That something is HSUS’s conference taking place in July in Washington, DC, called “Taking Action for Animals.”

As opposed to the “other conference,” Farm’s Animal Rights 2007, taking place this summer on the West Coast, in L.A., “Taking Action for Animals” tosses the concept of rights out the window, by eliminating it from the title. The new title implies participants should be active, and it’s somehow about animals, but the rest is left to our imagination.

HSUS decided to co-opt the annual conferences and start their own, claiming at the time the regular conference was giving a platform to speakers who promoted violence and illegal activity. Rather than continuing to participate in that conference, and therefore give a voice to their ideal of legal, non-violent activity, they pulled up stakes and started their own conference.

Unfortunately another side effect of shutting out those supposedly “violent” voices, was also shutting out voices of anyone who had a new or creative vision, anyone who had an issue with the status quo. HSUS had their own platform now and they could deny admission to anyone they chose. Make no mistake, there are many people in the movement who aren’t invited to TAFA, even though they have never promoted any kind of illegal activity. There are others who will be speaking there, who did promote illegal activity in the past, but are now employed by HSUS and who can be counted on to speak only on the HSUS agenda.

I’m not necessarily opposed to people creating their own conferences for their own specialized agendas, after all, everyone has a right. So the first few years of Taking Action for Animals I merely waited to see how it would go, asked my friends who attended for their opinions, and withheld judgment.

What brings this issue up for me now is that Whole Foods is co-sponsoring the conference this year, and a representative of Whole Foods will be speaking there. I don’t know if Whole Foods has any say in who speaks or what topics will be covered. I’d like to know that, but unfortunately I don’t know because HSUS won’t answer my questions in that regard.

Erica Meier of Compassion Over Killing replied that essentially it’s a great conference, COK is co-sponsoring as well, and she hopes to see me there. That unfortunately didn’t answer my fundamental questions about the role of Whole Foods in shaping conference content.

Another group that I won’t name, which is also speaking at the conference indicated to me that they were not given any restrictions on content based on Whole Foods participation. Which is great, but the questions I have are still ones which really only can be answered by conference organizers, that is HSUS, not by groups that naturally want to attend and promote their ideas.

Why would it bother me that Whole Foods is participating in the conference? Well that really depends on the unanswered questions. Is Whole Foods going to be promoting the “humane meat” they reap insane profits from? Will they be touting organic cow’s milk, and “artisan cheeses?” Or are they simply going to be handing out vegan food samples and recipes? Because things like that actually matter. Because I feel veganism is the fundamental key to helping animals, and I honestly cannot name another person I know in the movement who doesn’t agree with that.

My husband Sean Day, who has spoken at numerous Animal Rights conferences asked TAFA if he could also speak there, to speak about the dangers of promoting humane meat and to emphasize that in his opinion, the movement toward veganism must be our primary focus. He also intended to criticize Whole Foods “compassion certified meat.” He was told that unfortunately all speakers were already set and it was too late for him to participate. After he was told this, more speakers were added to the conference, and one of those new speakers confirmed to me that he had been asked to speak after Sean had already been told there were no more openings for speakers. It doesn’t surprise me. I knew that HSUS wouldn’t let him speak, because to go in and say that veganism is within reach of everyone, and that it is fundamental to our cause is simply too threatening to HSUS. I just wish they could have been honest and come right out and said they didn’t want him there instead of telling an obvious and easily disproved lie.

So Sean will not be speaking at Taking Action for Animals. Pattrice Jones, whose voice I’ve found so inspirational, will not be speaking at Taking Action for Animals. Gary Francione, who inspires some of us and alternately enrages others, but never fails to engage or get people talking, will not be speaking at Taking Action for Animals. Alex Herschaft of FARM won’t be speaking. Lee Hall, who actually wrote an entire book decrying illegal and/or violent/threatening tactics in animal rights, will not be speaking at the conference which claims it was specifically formed to fight those tendencies.

I don’t necessarily agree with every speaker listed above, but I absolutely feel that the way we form thoughtful and considered views is by hearing many opinions and weighing them against our own ethics and experience. In this manner we come to posses the tools (not final answers, not absolute truths) but the tools, intellectual and persuasive, to help us go back out into that wild world and spread veganism. I absolutely believe I got involved in veganism and animal rights, despite my farming roots and hunting family, because I had the ability to step back from things and ask tough questions and listen to all viewpoints. I was able to hear views contrary to my own and not dismiss them out of hand. Back in the beginning I listened to the anti-animal camp as well, you know. I weighed what I heard against my own heart, read a lot of voices, and found the solutions that worked for me, which made sense here and now. I believe our movement will lose something so vital when we shut out the voices of the thinkers and theorists, just because they might go outside the HSUS box.

And lest HSUS claims that the exclusion of these speakers is to avoid controversy, may I point to one of their keynote speakers last year: Rory Freedman, co-author of the book Skinny Bitch. Now, I’m not going to make this long entry longer by doing a book review of Skinny Bitch, but lets just say it’s certainly not uncontroversial. I participate in the Vegan People forum and I can’t tell you how many times eating disordered young women have joined the forum saying that Skinny Bitch has inspired them to use veganism to lose even more weight. Some feminists I know lament the degrading language the book uses to cajole women into veganism out of shame over their bodies. I believe the authors defend the book saying the foul and degrading language is a “joke” and that the severely calorie restricted diets presented there are meant to help the obese lose weight. Personal mileage may vary, but I’m firmly in the camp that believes veganism should be a celebration of life, health for ourselves and all creatures, and a bastion of safety, not another way to kill or sicken young women in the pursuit of an unrealistic body ideal.

So, um, calling women names if they happen to get chubby, that’s fine, no problem there. Letting Gary Francione say that vegans should not advocate minor animal agriculture reform, but should spend their time promoting veganism, hey, watch out, that’s crazy talk!