The Whole Hog

Earlier this month, an artist I met in a Patreon Zoom call checked out my work and then asked:

Do you have a plan for how you speak to nonvegans? Are you welcoming to everyone? I’m sure many potential supporters are interested in the vegan idea but maybe they don’t want to go the whole hog.

My intent is inclusive, I said. And many members of the audiences I meet (at congregations, schools, conferences and fairs) are not vegan.

Most of the people I meet do know something about habitat loss, rainforest devastation, and climate disruption. And I explain how these issues are directly connected to veganism. 

I make my best effort to relate to people straightforwardly, explaining what I know, what’s connected to their concerns, my own thought process. But I never sugar-coat the subjugation. I can’t speak about it in a clinical way. I can’t distance myself from oppression in order to feel welcoming to everyone.

It’s always up to people to change themselves. They can take what they need from me, and leave the rest. And I do hope they might be moved, either at the moment or down the road, to become vegan.

I never suggest half-measures. I think it’s only fair to liberate the whole hog! So I tell them.

Dominion Is a Funny Thing

And now, we’re officially into the Year of the Aurochs. My mind keeps wandering back to the day when, courtesy of Theresa Sarzynski in New Jersey, I met Herbie, a bovine refugee at a sanctuary for rescued farm animals.

It’s odd how we have this sort of meme image of the happy cow, instilled in us from childhood. Herbie and friends were as happy as cows can be, but they were some of the scant few to receive protection from what nearly always happens to cows. So, what’s up with the whole happy-cow concept? 

We take their milk. Notoriously, after farmers pull their infants away, they bellow for days. They mourn as their offspring are prepared to become the veal special on a diner’s menu. Ultimately, all the dairy cows, like the beef cattle before them, wind up in slotted trucks, bound for slaughter. These are not secrets. It takes very little effort to put two and two together. Why don’t we?

Dairy production is marketed as hilarious. (That’s a leather sofa, too, right? Such wit!)

And oh! The irony: “I poured myself into this commercial!”

Why do we play this collective game?  

How would we feel if the laugh were on us?

I keep talking about the aurochs because… 

Most people have no idea about that part. They never knew cows came from animals, now extinct, called aurochs, who lived on their terms until humans hunted them down to the very last one. They didn’t learn about the selective breeding that deprived cows of their freedom, one generation at a time, so that dependence on the human environment is now etched into their DNA.

In fact, many vegans don’t know.  I’ve been told by a number of vegans that the ideal “vegan world” includes happy cows, and looks like a sanctuary. We’d learn to pet cows and not eat them.

When I was preparing The Year of the Aurochs for publication at CounterPunch, Harold Brown pointed out that dairy cows are the most docile. They were bred to be as gentle as pets, so they could be walked and milked. The ones who chase people across fields are the beef cattle. They don’t need to be completely docile, Harold said. They only need to be driven. 

Purpose-breeding gradually transformed the aurochs into sources of edible substances which humans could have just as well done without. We can make burgers from beetroot and ice cream from oats. Why didn’t we simply do that all along? Why did we cultivate a taste for blood and for the liquid produced by other animals’ mammary glands? And how could we laugh?

I think we must answer these questions.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

Year of the Boar

On 5 February we enter the Year of the Pig in the Chinese Lunar calendar.

Now, Wikipedia tells us, the Japanese zodiac and the Tibetan zodiac do not have a pig; they have a boar.

I’m going with the Year of the Boar.

Because if we want to get to animal liberation, the ideal to keep in mind is a community of free-living beings. Not beings who were selectively bred to be controlled by the apes known (to ourselves) as Homo sapiens.

Decide for yourself. Would you want advocates to represent you this way?

Sure, the cut-paper caricature seems happy, but there’s no joy in being born dependent on, and ultimately killed by, a controlling owner.

Very few purpose-bred pigs make it to refuges. Those so-called lucky ones wouldn’t need luck if we humans would just stop breeding away their independence.

So much for the happy pig motif. Let’s get real.

Now look at the banner photo. Free-living boars live and move together, in groups. If the image of young sibling boars evokes a happy feeling in the viewer, it happens in a more respectful context: freedom.

Representing pigs as adorably happy in a pet-like state isn’t the best we can do. But it’s what a lot of vegan advocacy does.

Here it is, at the most extreme, with this cute little lonely pig. 

Yes, lonely.

Undomesticated boars live in groups. Babies stick together. So, this image should trouble us and make us question whether what seems “cute” to most human eyes is a profoundly sad state for the animal who’s displayed.

And now, are we really going to share a video clip of a helpless baby pig in a bidet for “National Dog Day”?

OK, yeah, I’m gonna get preachy here.

In the Year of the Pig Boar, how about we focus on these beings’ ancestral, free communities?

Most people don’t know what young boars look like, or where they live. We, as vegans, should know. Because veganism is not about making selective breeding seem adorable. Veganism is about challenging it and refusing to obscure the reality of where animal communities come from and who they really are.

Best wishes to everyone in the Year of the Boar. Let these images of boars interacting set the tone for a new year in vegan outreach.

VegFest in Buffalo, NY: A Slideshow About Caricatures and Memes

Animal advocacy produces many images in which selectively bred animals appear as cute, contented, and wanting to delight you or be friends with you. And generally we don’t regard it as needing further thought. It’s the imagery of endearment. Post adorable piglets, and maybe it’ll make people who keeping doing those bacon posts on Facebook see bacon in another way?

Popular advocacy images: What do they display or conceal about humanity’s relationship with all others?

On Sunday 6 August at the Western New York VegFest in Buffalo, I’ll present Cuteness, Memes, and Animal-Liberation Imagery: A Slideshow and Discussion.
We’ll look at how endearing imagery can work against animals and their defenders in a way the movement
has yet to explore.
This presentation asks: Does popular animal-advocacy imagery reinforce animals’ vulnerability? Is so, why should this matter to us?
Is there something we can learn here from the effects of race-based caricatures? What do we know about the power of imagery from the abolitionist struggle? To say all oppressions come from a common impulse, as I wrote in On Their Own Terms, isn’t to say that various groups are the same, or that the kind of inequality they’ve faced is the same. And facile analogies don’t help. Claire Heuchan has observed how “Black experience is regularly placed on a par with animals as a provocation.”
This is why it’s so important that the slideshow’s concept does not set out to compare caricatures reflecting white supremacy with caricatures that justify domestication. Distinct struggles against systems of domination should be known on their terms, even as they teach about the common source — the human urge to dominate and control — and ask ourselves how we’re challenging or continuing it.

Thanks to my patrons who make it possible for me to give up days of shift work to contribute this effort to the WNY VegFest. If you’d like to help this outreach continue, consider supporting it with a regular contribution (which can be as modest as $1 per month) on Patreon.

Hands Off the Camels

I’ve been so busy looking at cashew cheddar, hemp Parmesan and avocado ice cream that I didn’t notice the camel milk in a local co-op until a friend nudged me. Yes, camel milk has arrived. A website called Wellness Mama touts the stuff as a one-stop fix for everything from allergies to autism.

The Camel Milk Association must be under some social and legal pressure, though. They’ve posted a fact sheet about their members’ right of association on their website.

One camel milk vendor, Meadow Ridge Farm, calls itself a private membership club, citing the Weston A. Price Foundation as prescribing the raw-milk tradition to which they adhere.

But raw, unpasteurized milk, sought by many camel milk devotees, is generally prohibited in the United States and Europe. And camel milk has only recently been accepted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a commercial product.

Desert Farms, an online sales hub, attempts to make camel milk look eco-friendly, with a particular reference to the Amish suppliers.

But camel farming is just another example of the traffic in introduced species. Plus, it comes with methane emissions. Although these emissions might be lighter than those of cows and other ruminants, they are significant. Note that commercially exploited camels and their descendants have been blamed for a significant portion of Australian methane.

The Desert Farms website also claims that the suppliers spend a lot of time with their camels, that the smallest supplier owns just two camels, and that these suppliers’ camels are just the happiest in all the world.

The pink camel in the room here is a baby camel. Where does a baby camel go after being conceived and born to induce lactation? A free-roaming baby camel is suckled for more than a year.

The Desert Farms Frequently Asked Questions page doesn’t say a word about the offspring. It does include the bizarre question Is Camel Milk Vegan? Answer: “No, Desert Farms camel milk is an animal product. Animal lovers can rejoice that our camels are treated well and cherished by each family farm!”

The vendors are clearly well versed in pretending that the camels whose milk they usurp endorse this business model. Hogwash.

In any case, what makes up happiness in the world of camels is none of our business. These beings are so wonderfully adapted to the desert habitats in which they evolved that they have extra eyelids for removing grains of sand. Camels have their own history without us, spanning more than 40 million years.

Jeffrey Mousssaieff Masson writes in Altruistic Armadillos, Zenlike Zebras:

An Arab proverb says that a foal knows the well where her mother came to drink before she gave birth to her. It is not clear how they can find their own home range again over vast stretches of trackless desert, but they do.

Does your local health food shop or co-op carry camel milk? If so (or if not), conversation could make a difference and spare new camels from being brought into a life of confinement.

A search on the Desert Farms store locator page brought up three retail sellers within 25 miles of me:

One encouraging factor is the limited number of camel milk outlets on the map. This fledgling trend should be vulnerable to sound critique.

Some readers might point out that making a special case of camels leaves the trade in cows, goats and others unchallenged. I’m not suggesting that we advocate solely for camels; nothing prevents us from admonishing animal agribusiness generally, including when discussing camel milk. Camels as a community can be defended, and the broader questions about why we take any other animals’ milk can come to the fore.


I thank Linda Stein for inspiring this post.

Cuteness and Memes in Wildflower Cafe Slideshow

Start Your World Vegan Month at Wildflower Vegan Cafe

What’s Up? Enjoy cake and a cup of fair-trade coffee or a hearty vegan meal at Wildflower on the first Saturday in November, when I’ll facilitate a slideshow and conversation on Cuteness and Memes in Animal Advocacy.

Where? Wildflower Vegan Cafe, Village on High, Millville, NJ.  856.265.7955

When? 4 pm on Saturday 5 November 2016

We’ve all seen “Why love one but eat the other” images. Indeed, why do we love a puppy yet have no regrets when it comes to eating the calf? Then again…

Does setting the ideal in “loving” animals compromise nonhuman dignity? What can other social movements teach us about these idealized images?

Eric Nyman, owner of Wildflower Vegan Café, said, “Our business is nurturing bodies and minds. We’re excited to open November, which has traditionally been World Vegan Month, by offering space for Lee’s work on memes—inviting advocates and the public to consider how feel-good imagery might endorse exploitation.”

Event sponsored by Wildflower Vegan Café, and patrons of the art of animal liberation.

All the World’s a Stage: Thoughts on the Death of Harambe, the Cincinnati Zoo Gorilla

A gorilla named Harambe has been shot and killed.

And just as Blackfish—the film exposing everything wrong with using orcas for human observation and fun—reverberates beyond SeaWorld and challenges the existence of aquaria generally, so will Harambe force the public to rethink gorillas wherever we look at them. Harambe’s life, we now must note, was marked by isolation from this gorilla’s own parents, and by alienation, transit and objectification.

And like the great killer whales, a zoo gorilla, alive or dead, has lost a lifetime, missing everything that makes a free life possible…

Read more here . . .


Photo offered through Creative Commons for non-commercial use; original image by Frank Wouters on Flickr: link.

How Pro-Pitbull Crusades Harm Workers — and Dogs

Industry groups such as the American Pit Bull Foundation are out to vaunt the public image of these dogs, and “promote responsible breed ownership through providing owner and public education.” Why should animal advocates buttress their exploitive, deadly position?

Full article at CounterPunch today.

Fifteen Buzzwords Vegan Educators Can Stop Using Today

Semantics, says the Online Etymology Dictionary, is the science of meaning in language. To be understood, we need words to mean what the receiver thinks they mean. Semantics matter.

What about creating new phrases? When we choose coined terms, we’re usually communicating to insiders—others who’ve read the same literature. These terms often come from specific non-profit groups or individualsEureka - from espaciotiempo.org.ar claiming to advance a groundbreaking theory.

The use of a coined term even in a small group of insiders can cause misunderstandings, for it might suggest agreement with the whole kit and caboodle set out by the phrase’s inventor.

You might ask: Isn’t vegan a coined term? And so it is. But in its 70 years of use, it has become plain language. The word was offered by a community rather than an individual, and it functions as an essential signal to a unique and liberating pathway. It draws on a principle known and expressed for many generations, and channels it into a social movement’s terms.

Beyond that, the animal-rights idea takes no special jargon to explain. The idea that animal husbandry involves inflicting unnecessary harm is not a novel theory; it appears in Henry Salt’s 1892 book Animals’ Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress. International Vegetarian Union historian John Davis says that although Salt died five years before the founding of The Vegan Society, the last 55 years of Salt’s life were lived (as we now say) vegan.

Much term-coining and buzzword creation that’s come along since vegan has muddied clear waters, as our competitive culture promotes the act of personal marking—branding, to use today’s infelicitous term—on something that could just be straightforwardly recalled.

Here are 15 words and phrases we could drop and be better off for it:

1. Welfarist. For anyone who missed the “abolition-versus-welfare” back-and-forth, a quick synopsis. The animal-rights ideal would mean everyone opts out of using other animals. Instead of making that clear, charities continue to use heart-wrenching images and vow to fix the most “barbaric” abuses. Pity doesn’t challenge the status quo. A donation to reduce spectacular suffering can affirm the donor’s superior status in the system, changing nothing. PETA asks restaurant chains to prefer chicken suppliers that use gas slaughter technique. If any businesses enter into such preference agreements, PETA will publicize their promises to consider better animal welfare. Because it’s been connected to this kind of industrial whitewashing, welfare is used by some critics as a negative word; people who promote minor changes in animal enterprises are derided as welfarists. But does the word welfare have anything to do with the way businesses adjust their handling of the animals they own, use, and ultimately kill?

In contrast, an authentic caregiver promotes animal welfare. Trap-neuter-return work—catching abandoned domesticated cats and their offspring, neutering them, and supplying continued care—is praiseworthy welfare work. Welfare, to the ordinary ear, means well-being. So, right now, we should stop using welfarist as a negative code-word. (I should add that rescuing or “helping” animals does not, by itself, advance animal rights. But rescue and genuine caregiving are needed when we humans have caused an emergency in other animals’ lives, or imposed dependency upon them.)

2. “Stop factory farming!” Can we object to all animal farming at once? Even the small, family-run farm violates other beings’ most basic personal interests, beginning with the purpose-breeding of them because we can. And such farms still use resources that could feed hungry humans. Mathematician Adam Merberg published rough calculations suggesting a well-known free-range farm uses more calories in feed than it produces in food; and with the needless waste they generate, these property developments degrade water, soil and air. The very existence of any pastureland signifies predator removal. There is no benign animal agribusiness. Not for the planet, ourselves, the animals we’ve domesticated or those we haven’t.

3. Euthanasia. The term means a good death. It does not mean killing refugees to make space or save resources. Starting today, let’s all rule out the term euthanasia to mean the cold-blooded killing of a bear who chased a camper, or the death of a dog in a so-called shelter.

4. Companion animals. It’s not fair to selectively breed other animals to suit our desires, then call them companions as though they chose to hang out with us. I know: this is a tough one. Most people reading Vegan Place care for and love individual animals in our homes. So it can be hard for us to challenge the practice of keeping household animals. It might feel unloving. But step back and consider how they got here. These animals’ domestication is based on neoteny—the purposeful retention, in an adult cat or dog, of juvenile characteristics that prompt an animal to need and solicit care.

Most vegans already agree that nursing on another species is weird, and indeed that selectively breeding animals so we can take their milk is weird. Isn’t it also weird to want wolves and wildcats selectively bred so we can make them forever dependent?

And fashioning toys out of powerful wolves and wildcats—separating them from their families, buying and selling them, subjecting them to praise or punishment at whim, making ourselves their indispensable overseers—can hardly be justified on the grounds that pets benefit from the arrangement. Did it really benefit wolves to become Schnauzers? The land that is now the United States was once home to hundreds of thousands of wolves. Today, it has a few thousand wolves and 80 million domesticated dogs.

rackIf we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that we have, over time, forced free souls into submission. And when we think of it that way, companionship is an unfair term.

5. “Why love one but eat the other?” I’d think genuine advocacy seeks to cultivate an attitude of respect, not love in a system of inequality. If so, the best thing we can do as teachers is to inspire communities to respect other animals’ natural freedom and power—all that is taken away when we transform the Earth’s other conscious life into shapes that please us. The vegan issue isn’t about why we only eat one, but why we purpose-breed either.

6. Farm animal rights movement. There is no such thing. To animal agribusiness, the effective response is conscientious objection. Those who feel they are missing an ethical duty by not showing undercover videos or lobbying for animal-husbandry adjustments might consider farmer Harold Brown’s counsel: Let the animal farmers themselves improve conditions (they will, for PR reasons) as the vegan movement grows without them. Leave them without assistance, threats, cajoling or praise. It’s not the advocate’s role to police an abusive system.

7. Farmed animals. Why, instead of farm animals, has it become fashionable to say farmed animals? As in: animals who just happen to be farmed? It’s not as though we could just stop using them on farms, and the problem is solved. These animals have been selectively bred as farm animals: to be as easily confined and herded as we can make them. We need to do more than rescue them from farm use; we need to challenge the purpose-breeding at the root of the wrong.

8. Vegan cats. One of these words is not like the other… Veganism is an ethic that can be safely, harmlessly, naturally embraced by human primates. Forget about forcing cats to eat plants, and start getting vocal about the making of pets in the first place. See #4.

9. Single-issue campaigns. Should we dismiss the defending of any targeted group because it’s “single-issue”? What wrong done to a community or even to one person is beneath concern? All lives matter.

10. Wildlife. Aren’t we talking about animal communities? The word wildlife can mean plants as well as animals. Moreover, wild means uncultivated—a concept that falls short of representing the complexities of the non-human lives, systems, and interactions.

11. Humane, non-lethal alternatives.  Don’t do it. Don’t ask managers to put free-living animals on birth control rather than shoot them. Earlier on this blog I shared my column examining the way forcing contraception on animals became confused with advocacy; here is that link again. Read it and weep for the deer of Valley Forge National Historical Park and at several other National Parks in the eastern United States, where plans are being carried out to kill kill kill for as many years as park managers say so—until they get approval for some disappear-deer drug. The Natural Resources Director at Valley Forge claimed to have implemented this plan as a compromise with animal-rights activists.

12. Ethical vegan (also: abolitionist vegan). There is no unethical or pro-exploitation kind of veganism. Nor must we establish subcategories, subcultures, or exclusive clubs for only certain vegans. Vegan is vegan.

13. Meatless. Meat means an article of food or an essential part of something. It’s the term animal agribusiness which covers all the interconnected exploitation of an industry at once—and doesn’t suggest that vegans lack anything.

14. Veg. Nobody knows what that means. 

15. Vegan options. How about vegan offerings? In contrast to the if-we’re-lucky connotation of options, vegan offerings has a ring of confident generosity. Let’s imagine, discuss, and create a culture that makes animal farms history, one where vegan living is embraced as the way to sustain our world.


Thanks to Meg Graney and Kate Sparkman Sharadin for helpful online comments that got me in the mood to write this up. Source of banner detail: Shop With Meaning. Source of Eureka! drawing: EspacioTiempo (PDF). Source of St. Bernard breeding rack photo: Stornum Kennels.