Beware of Fraudulent Vegan Products in Colombia

Colombia offers a sizeable number of vegan and vegetarian restaurants, especially in larger cities, as well as natural food stores and delivery services that sell vegan products. Be vigilant however: there are a few products that are fraudulently labeled vegan.

Fake fake cheese.

I bought this “vegan” cheese at Ceres Market in Medellin. The fat-free claim and ingredient list struck me as odd but I bought it anyway, vaguely thinking that the list might be false or incomplete without considering that the product might not be vegan.

I’ve been a vegan for so long that when I first tasted the cheese, the flavor didn’t tip me off. I then threw some in a pan of zucchini I was sautéing, wondering if it would melt. It melted immediately. It had barely touched the zucchini and it was already a puddle. I’ve cooked with many vegan cheeses and never saw one melt so quickly. The cheese was also extremely stringy, something I have again never seen in a vegan cheese.

I texted a local animal rights activist a picture of the package and asked if she knew the brand and whether she thought it was vegan. This was her response:

“We don’t consume it because we don’t think it’s vegan. They used to use the Follow Your Heart label, later someone contacted Follow Your Heart and was told that they had taken legal action against this company. The packaging used to say “vegan cheese” and now it doesn’t say that anymore. Anyway, there were several inconsistencies and we prefer not to consume it, especially since we’ve tried many vegan cheeses around the world and none of them are like this one, whereas it is exactly like non-vegan cheese.”

So this seedy company is using the vegan trend to scam people into paying a premium on cow’s cheese. Needless to say, this is wholly unethical. Of course, selling cheese made from cow’s milk is always unethical due to the unavoidable cruelty to the cows and calves, but this is also cruel towards humans. People who eat fake vegan cheese might be intolerant or allergic to milk, and/or are being made to support an industry they find morally abhorrent.

This incident also recast a doubt on an earlier incident, when I got a vegan tamale to go from a vegetarian restaurant in Medellin. Eating it the next day, the vegan chicken struck me as very different from any other mock meat I’ve eaten. I threw away the tamale, emailed the restaurant to ask what brand of veggie chicken they used and never got an answer. In the meantime I found a Colombian online vegan store that sold tamales that seemed to be same ones I had eaten, so I decided that my concerns had been unwarranted. I think this is the chicken they use. However, after the cheese incident, I’m less inclined to automatically trust that something is vegan just because it’s labeled as such.

For the most part, I haven’t had concerns with vegetarian and vegan restaurants, with the exception of the tamale and a couple times when my soup had a suspiciously meaty flavor. If the food looks like it’s made from scratch – and it usually is – there’s probably nothing to worry about. I don’t think anyone is adding non-vegan ingredients on purpose, but in the case of the soup I think it’s possible that some meaty bouillon made its way there unnoticed. Another criteria is whether the owners or workers are veg*n themselves. It would be obnoxious to ask this at every restaurant you go to, but if you’re already making conversation you can take the opportunity to find out. If the people running the restaurant are vegan and/or if they are making food from scratch, I would not worry. I still wouldn’t worry if that’s not the case, but I think that while mistakes are unlikely, they can happen.

One final note is that, like elsewhere, replacements of common foods are not always vegan. I recently visited a natural foods store where there were two cheese alternatives: the fraudulent ones from the brand above, and an almond-based cheese that contained casein. There was no dishonest marketing with the latter but it said “almond cheese”, so it’s a reminder to always check the ingredients. Also, not all plant-based milks in Colombia are vegan, as they may use animal-based vitamins or additives. Before buying a new brand of milk, it can be useful to contact the company or check to see if the product is featured here. I’ve noticed however that many of the coffee shops that offer almond and soymilk use Silk, which is vegan, so this isn’t often a problem.

While Colombian food is typically meat-heavy, it’s also easy to travel here as a vegan. Just avoid “Badem”* cheese and remember that if something seems off, it just might be.

* Badem means almond in Persian.

Update (Nov. 6): I’ve come across some Colombian restaurant reviews that warn that recipes labeled vegan – with vegan cheese – were not vegan. In one case, posters with lactose intolerance experienced strong symptoms after eating a lasagna with “vegan” cheese. The restaurant in question has both a vegetarian and meat-based menu, so this is the problem that I touched upon. No doubt, the owner’s intention was to create vegan dishes, but not being vegan or vegetarian himself, he did not do the research to ensure that the cheese he buys is really vegan. In these cases it’s best to stick to simpler dishes that don’t contain meat or dairy substitutes.

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Male Violence and Gender Self-Identification

A couple weeks ago, I was privy to bits of conversation of a driver who shouted his rage at a woman who was on speakerphone. He yelled at her to “go to the apartment” and that he would see her there. At the next traffic light I heard him shout “I’m going to fuck you over so bad” and then her cry “why” sounding confused and scared, like she wanted to calm him down and genuinely didn’t understand why he was so angry.

The man was in a truly frightening state and I feared for the woman–I still do. Maybe I should have done something but I didn’t know what to do. Can you call the cops in such a situation? It seemed that the woman lived with this man, but I still hope that she had a way of avoiding him that night and hopefully forever.

Too many women are incapable of leaving or avoiding the men who abuse them and the figures show it. Every day in the US more than three women are killed by a current or former romantic partner. In response to widespread male violence, second-wave feminists pooled their resources and created domestic shelters. These are usually all-female spaces, for women and staffed by women, where women can escape from abusive men and bring their children if need be.

This was an important win for women but, like our other sex-segregated spaces, we are losing them to the cult of gender. A women’s shelter would normally be a safe space from men who might be determined to exert their perceived right to violence against their partners, and from other men who might harass or abuse women. However, with the current move to replace sex with gender ID and gender ID being verified by a simple declaration, these spaces will no longer be safe.

A man who is outraged by some perceived slight from his partner will often go to great lengths to “discipline” or get back at her. With gender self-ID, all he has to do is say that he identifies as a woman, and poof! He is one. As such, he suddenly belongs in women’s spaces and any woman who objects is a horrible bigot who should die in a fire.

It’s not only the men we know that we need to worry about; it is indisputable that women face systematic harassment from strangers as well. We are entitled to protect ourselves from all men, especially when we are at our most vulnerable, for example homeless or in prison. A recent case in Fresno, California, shows how gender self-ID removes this right from women.

Nine homeless women filed a lawsuit against a homeless shelter in Fresno because they were forced to shower with a trans-identified male who sexually harassed them. According to the charity that runs the shelter, federal law requires them to treat anybody who identifies as a woman as a woman. The shelter also requires women to shower in groups. It wasn’t hard to predict that this would lead to problems.

In Canada, two women were kicked out of a homeless shelter after raising concerns over a male resident. According to one of the women, “He wants to become a woman, I mean that is his choice but when a man comes into a women’s shelter who still has a penis and genitals he has more rights than we do.”

In their eagerness to be progressive, policy-makers are hopping on a trend that is anything but, and throwing society’s most vulnerable women under the bus. Women’s concerns have been ignored not only in broader “progressive” circles, but also by the very organizations that are supposed to work for them. This is why in the UK, female survivors of male violence have written an open letter to all women’s organizations asking them to support female-only spaces and to reject current proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, which would see the legal replacement of sex with gender self-ID.

Until now, the words man and woman have been defined on the basis of biological reality and the study of male violence against women has used these definitions. Even if you believe that there exists some internal essence or other non-biological trait that should redefine “man” and “woman”, it does not follow that oppression and systemic violence now fall along these new lines.

People with penises are known to frequently perpetrate violence against people with vaginas. “Women’s shelters” were created as a response to this and were named as such at a time when it was assumed that a woman was a person with a vagina. Redefining the words man and woman in no way changes this reality and in no way negates the need for people with vaginas to have spaces that are separate from people with penises.

Like shelters, the creation of women’s bathrooms was also a feminist win, as the absence of separate bathrooms had previously impeded women from participating in the public sphere. Reports from areas that lack separate bathrooms show that our need today for private spaces is as great as always, but gender self-ID allows any man to identify his way into female spaces, effectively doing away with them.

This week, a trans-identified male was charged with several counts of sexual assault against inmates at a women’s prison. And no, the point of sharing these stories is not to vilify men who identify as trans or to paint them as particularly predatory. It is to remind those who have embraced gender ideology that men as a whole are systematically predatory and abusive and that women have a right to exclude any and all men from our spaces so that we might be safe, heal, organize, participate in the public sphere and so on. While individual men can be lovely, they don’t get to opt out of the category of man by stating that they identify otherwise.

Describing the disappearance of lesbian (but not gay) spaces, Susan Cox writes: ‘It appears that even though the project of “queering” is, we’re told, about going beyond gender, the movement disproportionately affects females in negative ways. (…) We can make progressive-sounding pronouncements about certain spaces being inclusive, non-binary, and gender-neutral all we want, but these declarations do not magically disappear the material relations of power between the sexes foundational to our social world.’

People with penises belong to a class that oppresses people with vaginas as a class, regardless of their beliefs, self-perception or wishes that it were otherwise. By putting the demands of males, based on a subjective sense of self, over the rights of females to privacy and protection, we uphold male supremacy. Male violence against women has never stopped being a problem and any truly liberatory politics will condemn the erosion of the boundaries that women have painstakingly erected.

 

 

 

 

 

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Support San Franciso Lesbians

Please support these women who were attacked at the Dyke March by the ever-woke gender ideologues.

Three weeks ago a small group of lesbians was attacked at the San Francisco Dyke March for asserting that they were, well, lesbians. This is where gender ideology has gotten us. Homophobia is cool again and self-professed progressives are too afraid of being chastised for wrongthink to activate their brain cells and think about what they’re condoning. Enough with the ID politics, time for critical analysis.

My analysis (and that of many others) is that gender ideology harms all women and girls and especially lesbians, and San Francisco has been proving me right. After the library exhibit celebrating violence against women, we get lesbians attacked at a march that was supposed to be for them, in a city that used to be known for being gay-friendly.

It’s truly scary to see how quickly a movement can be co-opted and colonized, and this is something that warrants reflection from anyone who is involved in a social movement. I admire the courage of San Francisco and London lesbians who are reclaiming their movement and their marches in the face of hostility, slander, and even “actual” violence.

After the women were attacked at the SF Dyke March, the march, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Bay Area Reporter posted defamatory statements about them. Please support them by signing their petition for a retraction of these statements and by  supporting their fundraiser for legal expenses.

 

Read the statement of the women who protested the London Pride:
Get The L Out

 

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Why I Chose Mexico to Study Milk

It’s been two and a half years since I went to Mexico to start studying the globalization of milk consumption and this blog. My intention was to update it frequently but as soon as I returned to the US, I jumped into so much activity that writing this milk series took a back seat. Nonetheless, I did produce some posts here and on the Seed the Commons blog. I’ve also built awareness by speaking about the globalization of dairy at numerous venues, and I spearheaded the Seed the Commons campaign to #GetMilkOut of San Francisco school meals, which was launched on September 30, 2017. I am resuming the milk series with the hope of updating it more frequently, perhaps with shorter posts. For this one, I want to take a step back and speak about why I chose Mexico as my focal point.

I started this project to study a convergence of issues related to the globalization of dairy, including: the role of food aid in creating new markets for donors and integrating local food systems into a global capitalist market; the soft power of the West and the power of dominant groups to define what is normative; the social representations of non-European cultures, bodies, and ultimately of poverty, that justify a non-profit/development/humanitarian complex that furthers neocolonialism.

The first iteration of this project was a PhD I started in 2009, and I got the idea for it while I was working in the world of international human rights in 2007. I already knew that I wanted to explore the role played by the “non-profit industrial complex” and international institutions in maintaining a neocolonial world order, and I had an interest in food aid because I considered the usurpation of food systems central to this order. The idea to study milk distribution came about when I read an article about a joint program between Kraft and Save the Children: a school milk program in Mexico.

I read more about school milk programs, realizing how widespread they were becoming and how instrumental they were in changing food cultures around the world. The project crystallized and I decided to stick with Mexico for a number of reasons.

Poster Child for Neoliberalism and American Influence

The westernization of food cultures in the Global South, namely the increased consumption of animal products and processed foods, is largely the result of neoliberal policies and in this Mexico is a perfect case study. As the country that has ratified the largest number of free trade agreements, Mexico seemed like a poster child for the effects of free trade. The effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on Mexican food systems are particularly well documented and are often spoken about in activist circles to illustrate the damage wrought by free trade agreements in the Global South.

That NAFTA involves the Unites States is also important, as Mexico’s close relationship with the United States is another area where it provides a magnified view of the direction the rest of the world is taking. “Westernization” often amounts to Americanization, and from food culture to economic policy, much of the world takes its lead from the US. NAFTA has been a boon for the American dairy industry, for which Mexico is the largest export market. Mexico not only has important economic and political ties with the US, but also a very close cultural proximity.

The history of milk distribution in Mexico is also linked to its relationships with other parts of the Global North. Dairy was introduced to Mexico by Spanish colonizers and its consumption started to rise significantly in first half of the 20th century. At this time, Nestlé opened the first dairy processing plant in Mexico and this Swiss company subsequently became involved in both the Mexican social sector and in the technical development of its livestock industry. Also during this time, the first milk distribution programs created new outlets for foreign dairy industries.

Layers of Cultural Imperialism

As Mexican diets and diseases become stereotypically American, the influence that the United States exerts onto its southern neighbor provides a great case study of the power of a dominant group to define dietary norms. However, dairy is not an altogether recent food in Mexico. The increase in dairy consumption over the course of centuries reveals other layers of cultural influence that are rooted in Mexico’s history of colonization. The story goes that the Spanish conquered Mexico and a culinary fusion of indigenous and Spanish foods gave rise to what we know today as Mexican food, but it would be more appropriate to view the adoption of Spanish foods as a gradual process. Some indigenous communities still eat predominantly indigenous foods and their adoption of Mexican (in the sense of modern-day Mestizo) food culture is a current, ongoing process.

Among my criteria for choosing a country were that milk would not be a traditional food and that a high percentage of the population would be lactose intolerant. Indigenous Mexicans fit the bill. And since the goal was to examine at the social dynamics by which a dominant group shapes the dietary norms of a subordinate group, the evolving and overlapping relationships of power between indigenous Mexicans and Europeans, Mexicans and Americans, and indigenous Mexicans with Mestizo culture make Mexico a very rich terrain.

The issue of lactose intolerance was important because it brings into salience the power dynamic between those receiving new foods and those promoting them (especially when these are authority figures such as doctors, nurses, aid workers, and teachers). While lactose intolerance is not as high in Mexico as in some other countries where milk consumption is being adopted as a new norm, it does play into the changes underway, as both indigenous and Mestizo populations produce strategies to deal with their impediment in consuming a food that they are told is necessary.

One-Eighty: from Plant-Based to Carnism Extraordinaire

Common representations of Mexican food are heavy with meat and cheese, but pre-Columbian Mexican food was almost entirely plant-based. Today, while consumption levels of meat and dairy remain lower in Mexico than in wealthy countries, they are quite elevated by Global South standards and are highly appreciated and culturally valued. As I set out to explore the social mechanisms of dietary change, I found Mexico fascinating because it presented the widest possible change.

There are many countries and populations where milk consumption has skyrocketed from next to nothing. However, in many of them animal domestication and/or the consumption of animal products had a longer history or were more culturally significant. The story of Mexico illustrates the true malleability of culture and even of social identity, and how these are shaped from above by those who dominate socially, politically and economically.

At the same time, the story of food in Mexico also shows us strategies of resistance. From Zapatistas replanting milpas on reclaimed lands to massive popular mobilizations against Monsanto and indigenous women selling donated milk in the market, Mexico is full of examples of people exerting the right to protect and determine their own food systems and culture. While milk is dumped onto communities around the world, the processes by which it is adopted or rejected can be quite complex. Mexico is the perfect place to unfold it all.

 

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Degenderettes Exhibit at SFPL

Photography isn’t my forte, but hopefully this is useful to women who have been curious (or outraged) by the exhibit and don’t live in the Bay Area.

I took pictures of the Degenderettes exhibit at the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) for those who can’t make it there themselves. The Degenderettes are “a humble and practical club, fighting for gender rights within human reach rather than with legislation and slogans”, or a trans advocacy group that goes around intimidating and threatening women, especially lesbians. One of the pieces originally displayed was a bloodied t-shirt with the words “I PUNCH TERFS”.

A Degenderette wears a “I PUNCH TERFS” t-shirt at the 2017 San Francisco Pride parade.

Following outrage from women around the world, SFPL removed the t-shirt with this disingenuous comment: “This exhibit contains strong language, blood and mentions of transmisogyny and police violence. The Library has altered the exhibit, removing artwork that could be interpreted to promote violence which is incompatible with our  policies.” Transmisogyny is defined as “misogyny” towards transwomen, but you would be excused for assuming it refers to the misogyny displayed by trans people.

SFPL should have either removed the entire exhibit (and there is a petition to that effect that I encourage you to sign) or kept the t-shirt, so that the public understands what this TERF rhetoric is about.

Who is a TERF? A TERF is a woman who doesn’t believe in gender essentialism, or the idea that there are certain personality traits (or an essence, soul, mind, etc) that define all women. A TERF is a woman who thinks that her experience of oppression is rooted in being born in a female body. A TERF is a woman who believes that people born with penises, regardless of how they identify, have had different life experiences than those born with vaginas. A TERF is a woman who defends female-only spaces and resources (such as scholarships) set aside for women. A TERF is a woman who questions the medicalization of children who don’t conform to gender norms. A TERF is a lesbian who excludes males from her dating pool. Above all, a TERF is a woman who doesn’t know her place.

According to these guys, she should be punched, beaten, even killed, and SFPL found it appropriate to give them a platform. This is because they are white American males, who always have a license to spread terror to anyone they deem in their way.

An “inaccessible” women’s restroom door. Because all female spaces should be accessible and all women’s boundaries should be smashed.

We are living a global pandemic of violence against women and this exhibit was put up mere days after a massacre in Toronto that was motivated by misogyny and male entitlement. It is an ode to more of the same and allowing it at a public library is unbelievably irresponsible and insensitive. Regardless of how you choose to define “woman” and “man”, it is a fact that people with vaginas are born into an oppressed class that experiences systematic violence from people with penises, who make up the oppressor class. However, by positing that there is another axis of oppression – cis and trans – in which “cis women” (in this case lesbians) are suddenly the oppressors of “trans women” (in this case heterosexual males), they’ve reframed the violence and intimidation of the Degenderettes as a case of a marginalized group “punching up”. That’s all it takes for a stamp of approval from the enlightened folks at SFPL.

Men go into a space for lesbians and claim they “might not feel safe in a crowd of cis women”. This is the classic reversal of abusers who claim to be the abused.

Even if SFPL does believe that trans-identified males are oppressed by women and that that the violence of those punching up is justified, would they allow similar exhibits from other oppressed groups? I can imagine that they might host exhibits about other movements that include violent tactics in their struggle for liberation, but would they zoom in on their bloody weapons and violent slogans? Can you imagine Palestinians or Kurdish women or Black liberationists being allowed to exhibit weapons and slogans like “I punch Jews”, “I kill men” or “die white scum”? Somehow I doubt it. This is a privilege only afforded to those who are white American males.

As someone of Muslim descent, I see both something very different and very familiar in how the marginalized groups of Muslims and women are treated. If SFPL had exhibited a t-shirt that said “I punch Muslims”, I know that Bay Area community organizations and activists would have raised hell and had it shut down. But women? That nagging underclass of humanity? Nobody cares about us, be it on the left or the right.

There is also a chilling similarity. Violence is often justified by presenting the aggressor as the victim. When I see the lies and histrionics about radical feminists who “want all trans people to die” it reminds me of claims like “Muslims want to destroy the West/kill all Christians”. I have never seen any radical feminist advocate for violence against or wish death upon transpeople. Radical feminists simply do not believe that gender is natural or innate, and therefore do not agree with the current dogma that a woman is “anybody who identifies as a woman”. And in the ultra-privileged bubble and navel-gazing culture of American identitarians, disagreeing with someone’s beliefs about themselves is construed as the ultimate violence.

The Degenderettes exhibit is nothing more than misogyny and male entitlement and violence repackaged with the help of some eyeliner. As to the “liberals” who condone this, they have so wrapped their self-worth and social capital around being “woke” and supporting progressive causes, and they are so skittish about being reprimanded for wrongthink, that they allow themselves no room for critical thought.

IYIs [Intellectuals Yet Idiots] fail to distinguish between the letter and the spirit of things. They are so blinded by verbalistic notions such as science, education, democracy, racism, equality, evidence, rationality and similar buzzwords that they can be easily taken for a ride.
– Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Read more:
TERF isn’t just a slur, it’s hate speech
Trans activism is excusing & advocating violence against women, and it’s time to speak up

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Celebrating the Cycle of Life with Death

Alemany Farm, San Francisco’s largest urban farm,  is celebrating Earth Day this year by roasting a pig, as they do every year. When vegans have questioned this in the past, their response has been “circle of life”. So while spring is in bloom and the air is full of the scent and colors of life bursting forth, Americans celebrate the circle of life with death. 

Meanwhile, Iranians are currently celebrating our new year. Norooz falls on Spring Equinox and revolves around the sacredness of the circle of life. Before Norooz, we grow sprouts (sabzeh) for the haftseen, a table with symbolic items which will be laid until the end of the celebration. 

The cyclical renewal of life is celebrated with the vibrancy of life growing from seeds and creating a lush tapestry of green. On our haftseens we also place hyacinths, apples, and other symbols of abundance, health, life and nature. Norooz is celebrated for thirteen days, during which time the haftseens are a joyful backdrop, and people take pride in the beauty they’ve created. Then comes Sizdah Beh Dar (“thirteen to the door”); on the thirteenth day of the new year, friends and families spend the day in nature. The sabzeh is brought along for a final ritual. People tie little tufts of sprouts into knots as they make a wish for the new year and then throw them into a river, looking forward to the gifts that the river will bring back to them. 

All the while in my city, young Americans are choosing to honor the Earth and the circle of life by gathering around the body of an animal who will have wanted nothing more than to stay alive. This pig’s life will be violently ended by people who have absolute power over him or her and who have no need to kill to sustain themselves, but who choose to do so anyway because their entitlement trumps their empathy. Domination and death are the values upheld as Alemany gathers around another broken body. 

These daily choices and rituals call upon us to question our culture and the connections between the local and the global, the individual and the collective. 

Consider that the United States military is a bloated killing machine that receives more than a third of total global military spending. With bases around the globe and the wanton slaughter of civilians in criminal wars, it is the main source of terror in the world. Consider that last year American police killed a thousand of their own citizens and this year we’re already close to 300. This is summary execution at home as abroad, condoned by the legal system and the masses. Consider that in a country of extreme wealth, many die from lack of access to housing, healthcare and basic healthy foods. 

As parks became parking lots, as processed and packaged foods replaced fruits plucked from a backyard tree, humans are not the only ones to have suffered. Insects are dying off, the fish are dying off, mammals are dying off. Every corner of the Earth is poisoned as we pursue domination and profit.   

Tomorrow for Sizdah Beh Dar, I will bring a plant-based picnic to Golden Gate Park and will spend the day enjoying the sun, the grass, the trees, the flowers, the birds. I will take my sabzeh to Mission Creek and make a wish of liberation for the hundreds of thousands of pigs who are killed every day in the US, most of whom never see sunlight or touch the earth. I will reflect on how we can foster a culture in which we meet life with awe and tenderness, not destruction. If we are serious about Earth Day, nothing else will do. Those who attend pig roasts dressed in feel-good language think that the artisanal butchery of an individual pig raised outdoors can not be compared to the grotesque excess of industrial animal farming. They are wrong.

This equation of destruction and killing with the cycle of life, the logicking out of one’s own compassion, the rituals of domination that make up the fabric of American social life: these are the very basis of the culture of violence that has spawned horrors at home and abroad. The entitlement over the life of another is the same entitlement that drives the trashing of the planet, as we commodify every last part of nature. Kindness is the basis of sustainabilityany true celebration of Earth Day will require genuine soul-searching as we begin to change our culture at its very core.

 

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Cruelty Finds Justification

A pig is a dog is a cow is a cat.

Pig being transported to slaughter. Photo Credit: Toronto Pig Save.

Nothing justifies sending a terrified animal to slaughter. Yet through the increased popularity of the food movement (which is positive in some ways), animal cruelty has a renewed appeal.

It’s not that the food movement is “worse” or that they are more attached to meat consumption than your average person (save in the case of people who are themselves linked to animal husbandry through family/community tradition). Rather, the food movement legitimizes and anchors society’s natural resistance to change. But, their main arguments are nonsense:

Necessity
We are often told that what we’re being sold is necessary because it’s harder to argue against necessity than against preference. A good example is milk; the dairy industry got us by instilling the fear that without milk, our kids were missing something essential to their normal development. So these days, the argument is that we NEED cows to save the soil, we NEED manure to grow sustainably, we NEED beehives to pollinate the crops and so on. Don’t believe it. They are tapping into our Eurocentric biases to make cruelty appear unavoidable and enlightened.

Terrified pigs before slaughter

Culture
Another favorite of enlightened foodies and food activists. Why yes, liberating animals does go against almost all of our cultures, there’s no denying it. And we don’t have to deny it, because culture should not trump ethics and tradition should not be dogma. A double win of doing away with this nonsense justification is that we can also stop treating people of color (especially the “Native American hunter in touch with nature”) as Noble Savages, which is another manifestation of racism.

Only industrial animal agriculture is harmful
This is where the food movement and the animal rights movement are speaking at crosshairs. It’s true that factory farming is not representative of all animal husbandry, and that traditional forms may well be much better… for the environment. But this is not about the environment. If someone were breeding and killing puppies on their land, we wouldn’t say “That’s wonderful because this sustainable puppy farm sequesters carbon and supports biodiversity”. These pigs feel happiness, pain, joy and extreme terror just like dogs do. There is no rational justification for treating them differently.

Why Do We Love One, but Eat the Others? by Pawel Kuczynski
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Vegan Tamales Bring It All Together

To celebrate Cesar Chavez Day a couple years ago, I developed a vegan tamale workshop that explores social justice along the food chain. As participants cook together, we discuss the issues faced by various demographics and anchor them in the different components of the tamales, e.g. masa=farmers and relleno=farm workers.

Partnering with the nonprofit 18 Reasons (2017)

Conversations on food justice often focus on one group, like farmworkers and low-income consumers, so this approach allows to build on the pre-existing knowledge of participants and to expand their understanding of our food system. We stress the interconnectedness of the issues facing everyone along the food chain, and by extension, the common solutions and the need for a radical approach in working towards social justice.

All hands on deck (2016)

Participants also get to cook and eat vegan tamales, which seems to be the main draw. Whether they care about animals or their health, veganizing tamales is something that people get excited about. And what we show them is that we are not creating a novel dish but rather a more traditional, pre-Columbian one. As we peel away past European influences, we see how they echo the very changes happening today through forced migration and the corporatization and Americanization of Mexican food systems.

This workshop has been a perfect Cesar Chavez Day celebration, as we wanted to include animals in our consideration of those suffering in our food system. Cesar Chavez was a Mexican-American farm worker and a labor and civil rights organizer. After his death in 1993, he became a major American icon. Cesar Chavez Day became a national holiday (San Francisco has a yearly Cesar Chavez Day parade) and a movie was even made about his life. Sadly and predictably, most accounts fail to mention that he was a vegan and a strong advocate for nonhuman animals. At a farm conference in 1996, United Farm Workers president Arturo Rodriguez said “Cesar took genuine pride in producing numerous converts to vegetarianism over the decades. You’re looking at one of them. He felt so strongly about it that sometimes I think he took as much personal satisfaction from converting people to vegetarianism as he did to trade unionism.”

Co-facilitator Chema Hernández Gil at our first workshop in 2016

It is not always clear from accounts whether Cesar Chavez was vegetarian or fully vegan. Chema Hernández Gil, who teaches the vegan tamale workshop with me, met Cesar Chavez’s niece last year; she confirmed that her uncle was vegan and told Chema that Cesar Chavez was so passionate about animal rights that when people would eat meat in his presence, he would make animal noises to unsettle them.

Learning about food justice as the tamales steam (2017)

The past two years, we partnered with non-vegans in organizing this workshop, and seeing their openness to a vegan message has been heartening. Next month we will present this workshop (slightly modified as it will be a demo) at UCLA. This time, a vegan professor invited us. I don’t know whether many of her colleagues are vegan, but the workshop has elicited wide support. I look forward to learning about the interests of students and faculty and connecting these with Seed the Commons’ perspectives on decolonization, radical food activism and animal liberation.

If you’re in SoCal, don’t miss it! Find out more.

Kneading tamale dough is serious business (2017)
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Car Culture and the Right to the City

A Cyclist Rants 

Yesterday some car was speeding towards the intersection to make a right turn while aiming to come into the right lane, where I was on my bike. Instead of just slowing down and merging behind me like someone who isn’t sociopathically entitled, the driver almost hit me from the left. My only recourse was to glare at him and proceed. At the red light, he rolled down his window and demanded what my problem was. I answered that my problem was that he almost hit me. His answer: “You need to stop smoking and put the bike down.” (huh?)

Riding a bike in SF is incredibly stressful and it’s really when people get in their cars that – sorry to say – they put on display the ignorance and entitlement that make up the American stereotype.

I say ignorance because most drivers here are completely clueless about the rules of the road. They’ll throw tantrums about cyclists running red lights (which I don’t condone) but drivers flout the rules of the road at a much higher frequency, posing a very real danger to people on bikes, pedestrians and people in wheelchairs.

I say entitlement because even if they do know the rules, they don’t care. There is a sense that the road is for drivers, the crosswalks are for drivers, the bike lanes are for drivers to double park in, etc. There’s a tangible attitude of “gimme ALL the space” and when people’s entitlement is challenged, they often become aggressive.

It’s not just biking that’s stressful. I live in a neighborhood with heavy traffic where there is no concept of pedestrian right of way. Getting almost hit at crosswalks, or being forced to walk into traffic because the crosswalk is blocked by cars, is a normal daily occurrence. People in wheelchairs are even more vulnerable to this anti-social prioritization of speed over safety and decency.

The dude yesterday was big, burly, aggressive and straight up intimidating. I’ve had drivers shout out me, honk at me, accelerate within inches of me, just for being on the road. As a pedestrian, I’ve been called a bitch for simply walking on a crosswalk when I had a green light, because it forced a driver to have to slow down. When I was recovering from pneumonia and couldn’t walk fast, trying to cross the street within the allotted number of seconds was a nightmare. I don’t know how people with less mobility deal with it.

Reclaiming the city and reclaiming the streets is not just about land trusts, public parks, urban farms and so on. It’s also about ditching this car culture, funding public transit (I’ve been to plenty of “third world” countries with better transit than SF), funding better infrastructure for people who walk and bike, driver education (SF bike coalition, a large and influential bike advocacy organization, does not prioritize this but I am convinced it is key and can be effective if done properly), and probably, unfortunately, better enforcement. (Of course, a big problem with enforcement is the anti-poor and anti-cyclist bias of SFPD.)

Because at this point it’s pretty damn difficult for people to get from Point A to Point B without spending money or putting themselves at risk. Our daily movement is taxed, mostly to support the fossil fuel industry. We live in a tiny city with great weather, we could make it into a paradise if we prioritized the needs of the many instead of those of the few.

entitled driver
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Farmers’ Love and Soy Myths: More Nonsense to Retire in 2018

No, veganism doesn’t require destroying the Amazon, and no, farmers’ “love” for animals doesn’t justify killing them.

The Guardian published an article titled Cows are loving, intelligent and kind – but we should still eat themIt follows Rosamund Young, a farmer who wrote The Secret Lives of Cows. She bonds with her cows, observes the richness and complexity of their social and inner lives, and even provides this memorable quote “The animals themselves are by far the most qualified individuals to make decisions about their own welfare.” She also brings her cows to the slaughterhouse, despite this being the most extreme and violent opposition possible to the decisions that cows would make for their own welfare.

Allgäu Ruminant Dairy Cattle Cows Cute CowThis trope of the farmer who loves their animals and has a zen-like maturity about death has been fed to us for a loooong time. Already in 2000, I remember meeting a guy who, upon learning I was vegan, told me he had been vegan for a while. He had started to eat meat again when he met a farmer who really, really loved his animals – but would kill and eat them. He figured that if the farmer, who really, really loved his chickens, still ate them, it was a green light for him to also eat animals. We’re supposed to see farmers as the example to follow, since they are actually in close communion with animals whereas us urban folks have led a disconnected life of Disney movies and supermarket food.

It would be just as ludicrous to look to men who beat and rape their wives as experts on the validity of women’s emancipation or on how to treat women. They live with them right? And they love them. So if they think patriarchy and male domination of women is ok, then it is. There is so much to deconstruct here in the concept of “love” when applied by a dominant class, but what I want to comment on is the soy – yet something else that is peddled out like truth again and again.

Rosamund Young justifies killing animals because “Britain’s climate and geography make meat production the only truly sustainable land use on its grasslands. Her slopes are too steep to grow crops and vegan diets dependent on imported soya beans from ex-rainforests don’t appear to be sustainable”.

First, vegan diets do not necessarily depend on soy. I spent most of my years as a vegan living in Switzerland and for the most part I ate very little soy. When I did, it was not imported from monocultures in South America; it was organic soy that was grown in Europe. When small farmers and other anti-vegans of that milieu speak of the evils of soy in the Amazon, they conveniently omit that most of that soy goes to feed cattle. Granted, they are not advocating for European cows to be raised on soy either, but that is the inevitable result of the consumption levels in the West today. Grass-fed “beef” is land-intensive. Its proponents sometimes give lip service to the idea of decreasing meat consumption but never center that message in their work.

512px-Ful_medames
Egyptian breakfast with the fava-based ful medames. Delicious, vegan, and lo and behold! Not a soybean in sight.

Going back to soy, people love to wag the finger at vegans but genetically engineered soy is ubiquitous in processed foods consumed by non-vegans. On the other hand, even in the United States, many of the soy products marketed specifically to vegans are non-GMO. And it’s not like pulses don’t grow in the UK. Before they were snubbed as low-class, beans and peas were staple British foods. They’re still grown – now as feed for cattle and for export. Britain is one of the largest exporters of fava beans and Egypt, of all places, is one of its main markets. It’d be wiser for the British to learn to make the delicious Egyptian ful medames and keep their fava beans at home.

You can run around in circles justifying cruelty, but the litmus test is this: would you be ok with dogs being raised and slaughtered like cows? If not, it befalls you to explain why you draw a line between cows and dogs.

There are plenty of veganic growers in the UK, in fact I’ve been told that one of the reasons veganics are more accepted and developed in the UK than in the US is precisely because of the relative lack of land. I hope to see the Guardian start covering their proposal for a compassionate and sustainable food system.

Visit Veganic World for interviews with veganic farmers.

Read my short Defense of the Humble Bean.

 

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