A New Animal Liberation: Why?

On Earth Day weekend 2016, the Cleveland Animal Rights Alliance invited me to the Cleveland Heights library to offer a presentation (public; free vegan pizza and homemade dishes) on Why We Need an Animal Liberation for the 21st Century.

So we focused on the subtitle and reasons to recharge the phrase animal liberation.

Discussions of rights so often veer into questions about who qualifies. We laud certain animals for demonstrating (often at great cost to the animals themselves) that they can decipher and respond to our cues, or adapt to our domestic environments, or act like us. Our assessments of what animals deserve can trap them again. As Catharine MacKinnon observed more than a decade ago, the model that “makes animals objects of rights in standard liberal moral terms—misses animals on their own terms.”

And lately I’ve beenKai and Candice leaning to liberation as our real objective: it evokes those living on nature’s terms, autonomous, free.

We can credit Peter Singer as a catalyst for a rising conversation, in the English-speaking world, of animals’ interests and human responsibility. Singer personally underscored this in the New York Review of Books three decades after having published Animal Liberation.

The thing is, the theme of Peter Singer’s 1975 book was not so much liberation as pain management.


To Singer, Animal Liberation promotes a principle that most people already accept: we should minimize suffering. This became the keynote argument for the animal-rights advocacy that followed.

The next slide, quoting Singer at Taking Action for Animals (sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States, 2006), highlights a point of contention. While many advocates agreed with Singer’s opinion that pain sensitivity is what draws our ethical consideration, some wouldn’t wave off our role in their deaths this readily. Slide5

Many advocacy groups followed Singer, though, and never established precepts against killing. The Animal Legal Defense Fund wrote up a Bill of Rights for Animals that accepts killing though livestock must be stunned into unconsciousness prior to slaughter.

Humane slaughter is an oxymoron


The idea that causing a conscious being’s death is allowable under the “liberation” banner is bizarre, yet taken for granted in a lot of advocacy. To this day, exposés don’t decry the killing so much as the way animals are killed.

Peter Singer’s “equal consideration” for nonhuman interests will essentially regard animals as containers of pain and pleasure. To cut down on the most suffering, the activist is urged to oppose glaring abuses in animal husbandry. Here’s the point as originally stated in Singer’s Animal Liberation:Slide6

To a large extent, even rights advocacy (while taking great pains to differentiate itself from Singer’s brand of utilitarianism) reflects Singer’s model.


– Peter Singer. nybooks.com/articles/2003/05/15/animal-liberation-at-30/

Singer, who wrote Animal Liberation during a key decade for human equality movements, says equal consideration ought to be extended to nonhuman animals. But according to Singer this consideration will only the cover interests we deem similar to those we seek to protect for ourselves.

This might seem logical on its face, but I’m not convinced it’s a fair (or even relevant) way to judge the interests of other animals who have no need for our assessments.

Nautical Dogs and Sterile Deer

Animal-advocacy theorists have presented hypothetical emergencies to justify our preference for putting humans first. Picture a lifeboat that can’t carry an entire group of humans and a dog to safety. Who gets to stay in the boat?

Tom Regan’s Case for Animal Rights came out in 1983. In Regan’s version, the dog loses. Regan assigns a human and dog equal moral significance: we all experience our lives. Yet Regan distinguishes the value of the lives lived by the humans and dog from the value of beings themselves. And then allows the sacrifice of any number of dogs to save the human. Slide10

This assertion was repeated quite recently by Gary L. Francione and Anna Charlton, who, in Eat Like You Care: An Examination of the Morality of Eating Animals (2013), say they “will not challenge these widely-shared moral intuitions” that “may tell us that in situations of genuine conflict between humans and animals, humans win. But our intuitions also tell us that in situations in which there is no conflict, we cannot inflict suffering on animals simply because we get enjoyment from doing so.”

Here’s the message the 21st century is sending to animal advocacy: There is hardly any uncontested space on this planet. There are more than seven billion of us, and everywhere, humans are “winning” while everyone else is disappearing.

People now impose contraception on deer so we can CLE Leespread ourselves out without having to deal with the “conflict” of animals in our way. Or we oust untamed animals in the name of human rights. In India, a Tribal Rights Bill was introduced to redress discrimination by allocating land to several million indigenous forest-dwellers—while annihilating the region’s last few hundred tigers. Is erasure of tigers acceptable because the tigers would have had less possible sources of satisfaction than the indigenous people? Or does ethical decision-making require a thought process more complex than that?

Under new global climate patterns, lifeboat scenarios will happen a lot. Environmental crises are unfolding more quickly than could have been predicted when many animal-rights texts were written.

Chapter Nine of On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century reviews advocates’ agreement to control the fertility of free-living animals over the years. In 1975, Singer suggested that animals have an interest in our research and development of fertility control over free-living communities.Slide16

The assumption that free-living animals might wreck their environment and need us to step in as supervisors matches the claims of administrative officials ready to lower the boom on animals in woods, parks, and fragments of green space. In 2008, when deer were targeted near Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, rights advocate Tom Regan accepted the premise that the local deer must be controlled, but argued that it should be done by pharmaceutical means. The contraceptive substance porcine zona pellucida (PZP), made from the membranes of pig ovaries, triggers the deer’s immune system, forcing the body to attack the deer’s own eggs.


The Swarthmorean, 18 Dec. 2008

Regan’s position startled and disappointed me—for Regan’s book The Case for Animal Rights had urged: “With regard to wild animals, the general policy recommended by the rights view is: let them be!” But support for human-controlled reproduction in free-living communities had precedent in animal-rights legal work. In the 1990s, Gary Francione and Anna Charlton, on behalf of their Animal Law Project at Rutgers, explained their action on behalf of Pity Not Cruelty, Inc. to change deer-control policy in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania:

“We are assisting the plaintiffs in the Lower Merion challenge in the dissemination of information concerning non-lethal methods to decrease any deer/human conflicts, including the possible use of immunocontraception where the deer population can be verified to have increased considerably.”

This presents the deer’s very act of reproducing as a possible situation of true conflict. The stance ignores the obvious—balancing the deer population isn’t up to humans; it’s the role of native carnivores and omnivores.

Today, communities are demanding the systematic spaying of deer.


A liberatory theory ought to call for the neutering of cats (TNR) or to prevent dogs from mating, they already lack the ability to reproduce and raise their young on their terms. Phasing out the breeding of animals as pets would, essentially, put wildcats and wolves off-limits to selective breeding to suit our whims. But contraception for free-living animals is animal control—nothing more, nothing less. Note the importance of distinguishing selectively bred animals from communities of animals who could actually experience autonomy, and shouldn’t be denied that opportunity.

I’ll let the next slide speak for itself.


But for context, let’s talk about how much room we take up on this planet, thanks to some work made available by Californians for Population Stabilization.

Slide22Humanity’s mass (we’re the red bar segments in the next chart) has eclipsed the collective weight of all Earth’s free-living land mammals (green segments).


Add to this the weight of our entourage of purpose-bred animals (blue segments).

Witness our expansion as we press the rest of Earth’s bio-community off the chart.

Can we so readily accept the claim of “too many of them”?

Shoppers gonna shop. Can we accept that some (really fancy) husbandry improvements support the liberation mission, sort of?

OK, let’s look at an e-mail I received from Whole Foods Market in London on 15 April 2016, just one week before Earth Day. Slide25It says…

“While organic dairy cows yield on average a third less than intensive production, the benefits of organic dairy are huge. In order for a dairy to achieve organic certification the herd must be pasture-grazed throughout the grazing season.”

The cows are on pastures (read: sprawl – and let’s explain it as such to our shopping friends), and they only “yield” a third of what densely confined cows produce. So, if all the cow’s milk shoppers switched to organic, they’d effectively demand three times as many cows? Look at these cows.

The next slide joins the two above advocacy positions: (a) constricting the populations of free-living animals, and (b) allocating more space to animal husbandry. Both positions, and certainly the two combined, support human claims to habitat and, in turn, the disappearing of the untamed.


Both campaigns arguably advance ye olde humane-treatment principle “based on values that most people accept” but neither supports true animal welfare. The vegan response to these campaigns is non-participation. (That doesn’t mean doing nothing! We need to give our active support both to vegan-organic farming and predator coexistence initiatives.)

Slide31Peter Singer and Jim Mason, in The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, suggest animal husbandry could be a beneficial system for the animals involved. Hogwash. The hills were the habitat of wolves and wildcats before we came in with our animal husbandry.

As for an incremental step on the way to rights for animals, let’s be clear: no improvement in the conditions for purpose-bred animals cuts the mustard. The more connected to nature the farm is, the more reasons for the farm owner to set traps or call the “nuisance control” professionals.

Free-living animals lose where they’re overlapped by controlled ones, as the owners continually introduce problems into habitats.


No authentic rights await purpose-bred animals; the concept is an absurdity we can accept only as long as we accept purpose-breeding.

Cultivating Active Respect

One rights scholar has said: “If we are going to make good on our claim to take animal interests seriously, then we have no choice but to accord animals one right: the right not to be treated as our property.” Will this resolve all the problems?


Reindeer were domesticated back in 14000 BC; dogs were bred from wolves about 13000 BC—long before modern conceptions of rights and property.

Because domination is a deeper, broader problem than property status, we’d best think of abolitionism—the call to stop treating animals as commodities—as a component of animal liberation. We’ve got to get over our practice of warring against other beings, displacing them, hijacking their reproduction and demolishing their spaces. Authentic animal-liberation theory conceives of affirmative action to facilitate animals’ flourishing on their own terms. This means cultivating active respect for animals’ connections with their own communities, for their interests in the climate, in the land, water, and air they require to experience freedom.

Slide37And while the interest in shifting other animals’ legal status from property to person is worthwhile, the outcome will be limited if we base our claims on their remarkable abilities to adapt to human environments. Or if we focus on pain control. Slide38

The argument for nonhuman personhood, in the 21st century, will defend the life experiences for which animals themselves evolved, free from our assessments or supervision.
CLE convenors

Thank you . . .

to Cleveland’s vegan community for encouraging this exploration of our movement and the writing of the book itself. Having a launch date helped to move the new work from a computer file to a book! Bill, thank you for choosing the graph slide and explaining its elements during the presentation. Thanks to all our animal writers, including those not mentioned and those critiqued here, for their contributions to the advocacy dialogue. This writing is not an attempt to compete or compare. It’s intended, in the vegan spirit of collective progress, to help refine our wayfinding, knowing that involves dynamic and sometimes knotty discussions.

Photos of the Earth Day Celebration and book launch in Cleveland Heights courtesy of the Cleveland Animal Rights Alliance. THANKS TO ARKIVE.ORG FOR OFFERING A HUB FOR PHOTOgraphers of animals in Habitat, and encouraging the sharing of these images. Encampments meme: Tiffany Warner on PINTEREST, Pinned from KnowYourMeme.Com

Just Desserts: Jake’s Festive Ice Creams

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean we can’t have ice cream. And hey, the Northern Hemisphere isn’t the only one on the planet. So without further ado, here’s Jake Dicus of Cleveland, Ohio, sharing some brilliant recipes for your local restaurant or your own kitchen.

Jake moustache has been moved to facilitate ice cream testing.

Jake’s moustache has been repositioned to facilitate ice cream testing.

By the way, if you’ve thought about getting an ice cream maker for you or as a gift for another ice cream fanatic in your life, but didn’t think you could afford it, Jake might change your mind. If you have room in your freezer to stash the bowl, Jake notes the “pre-frozen” or canister-style models (models you freeze for 24 hours in advance of making ice cream) will work for you and come cheaper than the “self-refrigerating” models with built-in compressors.

When America’s Test Kitchen reviewed ice cream makers for Cook’s Illustrated, a top pick was the Cuisinart Automatic Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker at $49.99—cheaper still from Craigslist or eBay where unwanted wedding and holiday gifts are sold. Jake says, “I have the Whynter SNÖ Professional Ice Cream Maker [a self-refrigerating model] recommended in the article, but they are hard to find. I got mine off of eBay for pretty cheap.”

How to Make the Ice Cream Base

A coconut-milk ice cream base will give you a custard-like consistency. High fat-content coconut milks, such as Savoy Coconut Cream, parallel the fat content of premium ice creams. If the ice cream does not turn out to a desired consistency, more sugar or alcohol (rum, brandy, or bourbon) will soften it. A thickening agent such as agar powder, xantham gum, or corn starch makes for an ice cream with a creamier mouth-feel.  

In some cases the ice cream will need no thickening agent. Peanut butter, for example, creates a thick base that doesn’t need any help with thickening. Chocolate ice cream made using lots of vegan dark chocolate is thick on its own from the fat in the chocolate. (A coconut taste will come through with subtle ice creams such as vanilla, so those are not the best choices with this recipe.)


  • Two 14-ounce cans of coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup vegan sugar or other sweetener.  Maple syrup complements maple-walnut ice cream; molasses is a good pick for oatmeal cookie ice cream. Remember: The more sweetener you add, the softer the ice cream.
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp agar powder (or a starch slurry of 2 Tbsp. corn starch mixed with ¼ cup cold non-dairy milk)


Put the coconut milk, sweetener, and salt into a medium saucepan. Heat medium-low, stirring frequently to dissolve the sweetener. This is also the point where you would add other flavor components such as those suggested from the list below.

Once the mixture is hot but not quite simmering, sprinkle the agar powder in and whisk to combine.  Continue to whisk frequently until the mixture thickens, adjusting the heat as necessary so the mixture does not boil.  When it thickens, remove the mixture from the heat.

Cool the mixture to room temperature and, optionally, run it through a fine mesh strainer to remove any lumps.  Cover the mixture and refrigerate it until it cools completely.  Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions.  Place the ice cream in a container in the freezer for at least 2 hours to allow it to set up completely.

Ice creams using the base above:

Peanut Butter Ice Cream:  Add one cup of creamy-style peanut butter and a half-teaspoon (½ tsp.) cinnamon to the coconut milk and sugar mixture and do not add the agar powder (as stated above, peanut butter also serves as the thickener).  After the ice cream has come to room temperature, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and stir to incorporate.  Serve with vegan chocolate sauce drizzled on top.

Spiced Pumpkin:  Add one 14 oz. (414 ml.) can of pumpkin puree, one tablespoon (1 Tbsp.) cinnamon, one teaspoon (1 tsp.) ginger, a fourth-teaspoon (¼ tsp.) nutmeg, and a half-teaspoon (½ tsp.) cayenne pepper (optional); or add one tablespoon (1 Tbsp.) pumpkin pie spice to the coconut milk sugar mixture.  You can also replace ½ cup sugar with ¼ cup maple syrup and ¼ cup molasses.  After the ice cream has come to room temperature, add 1 to 2 teaspoons each of vanilla extract and bourbon (optional) and stir to incorporate.  During the last 5 minutes of the ice cream machine’s cycle, add 1 cup of frozen vegan spiced nuts, pralines, or walnuts.   

Cardamom, Rose Water, Pistachio Ice Cream:  Add 2 teaspoons of ground cardamom to the coconut milk sugar mixture.  Once the mixture cools to room temperature, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of rose water and stir to incorporate.  During the last 5 minutes of the ice cream machine’s cycle, add in 1 cup of frozen pistachios.

Pandan Ice Cream

Pandan ice cream with rum-soaked mango and black forbidden rice, made and photographed by Jake Dicus

Pandan Ice Cream with Mango and Forbidden Rice: Add ¼ to ½ teaspoon of pandan extract (available at some Asian markets; also called screw pine extract) to the coconut milk and sugar mixture. This will turn the
mixture pale green. Adjust sugar and pandan extract to taste.

While the mixture is cooling according to the above instructions, peel one large
mango and separate the flesh from the pit. Finely dice the fruit. Larger pieces will freeze solid in the ice cream as fruity ice cubes. Macerating the mango in a tablespoon of sugar dissolved in two tablespoons of rum for at least 15 minutes will help to soften the mango when frozen. Spread on a sheet of wax paper placed in a container that will fit in your freezer and freeze. Now make the rice. Forbidden rice or purple sticky rice is available at many supermarkets and Asian markets. Put ¼ cup of uncooked rice into a small saucepan and cook according to its directions (but substitute coconut milk for the water or other cooking liquid and add ½ cup sugar). Once the rice is tender, you may need to add more coconut milk to get the consistency of soupy oatmeal.

When it has cooled, blend the rice pudding in a food processor or blender to break up the rice kernels. Thoroughly chill the rice pudding mixture. Make the ice cream according to the manufacturer’s directions. In the last five minutes add the frozen mango. Pre-freeze a freezer-safe container large enough to hold your ice cream. Starting with ice cream, alternate layers of ice cream and rice pudding in the container so you have two or more layers of rice pudding. Freeze for at least two hours to allow the ice cream to fully set up.

Now, another take on creating an ice cream base and putting together a thoroughly festive dessert—just the thing for a vegan Thanksgiving get-together, or to celebrate the Winter Solstice.

Jake’s Bourbon Chestnut Ice Cream with Cranberry Sauce

Jake's Bourbon Chestnut Ice Cream

It doesn’t get more festive than this.

Ingredients for the ice cream base:

  • 1 – 5 ounce package of roasted and peeled chestnuts or 5 ounces of chestnut puree
  • 2 – 14 ounce cans of coconut milk
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)
  • A few pinches of fresh grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon guar gum or xanthan gum (optional)

Ingredients for the cranberry sauce:

  • 12 ounces fresh cranberries
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • ½ cup sugar (adjust to taste, but tartness provides a nice contrast to the sweet ice cream)
  • A few pinches of lime or lemon zest

Prepare the sauce: Place all the sauce ingredients in a sauce pan and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries pop and most of the liquid has reduced – about 15-20 minutes.  The sauce should be thick and slightly chunky. (For an interesting flavor addition, add a sprig of rosemary to the cooking cranberries and remove when the sauce is finished cooking.) Cool to room temperature and then thoroughly chill in the refrigerator.

Prepare the ice cream base: Carefully score an “x” with a sharp paring knife on the flat side of the nut, making sure to pierce the skin. Roast nuts in 375°F (190°C, Gas Mark 5) oven for half an hour. Let them cool a bit and then peel the shell and skin away from the nuts. This process can be a bit tricky and it may be best to use prepared rather than fresh chestnuts. If you can’t find chestnuts or don’t like them, try roasted walnuts or black walnuts.

Place all the ingredients in a powerful blender like a Vitamix and blend on high speed until the chestnut pieces are thoroughly incorporated and the liquid has a smooth texture – about 1 minute. If you want the best texture, strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Then refrigerate the base for at least 4 hours.

If you don’t have a powerful blender, you can get canned chestnut puree instead of the prepared chestnuts. The brown sugar may not completely dissolve using this method, so heating the mixture on the stove until the sugar dissolves can prevent a gritty texture.  If you apply heat, wait to add the vanilla and bourbon until after the mixture cools to room temperature.

Once the ice cream base is thoroughly chilled, add it to your ice cream maker and prepare according to the directions included with the machine.

While the ice cream is churning, place a sealable glass container large enough to hold the ice cream in the freezer. A few minutes before the ice cream is ready, remove the container from the freezer and place about half of the cranberry sauce in the bottom of it.

When the ice cream is ready, put half the ice cream in the container. Top with the remaining cranberry sauce and then the remaining ice cream. You can swirl the sauce by running a knife through the ice cream, making several passes in a figure-8 pattern. Alternatively, leaving the ice cream as is will result in scoops with ribbons of sauce running through them.

Thank you, Jake. I’ll never forget the ice cream you smuggled into Chrissie Hynde’s restaurant, VegiTerranean in Akron, after we got together though a presentation offered by the Cleveland Animal Rights Alliance in 2011. VegiTerranean did not survive the recession, alas!, but your ice cream is invincible.