Is Animal Liberation Incompatible with Food Sovereignty?

I am currently writing a chapter on the role of social movements for a very exciting book on the transformation of food systems, and thinking about the different elements that will allow us to build a veganic food system. I remembered this comment that I posted to Animal Liberation Currents some months ago and would like to share it here. 

I founded the People’s Harvest Forum in 2015 as a way to promote food sovereignty and agroecology, while working within a vegan ethic. I think that if we simply present veganism as the better way to eat or grow food, then advocating for a strict adherence to veganism is fundamentally incompatible with food sovereignty. This is one of the reasons the forum never included presentations on veganism as a necessary solution to environmental, social or public health issues (e.g. veganism as a response to climate change). On the other hand, I think we can stand firmly behind an animal liberationist ethic and promote veganism in the same way we promote women’s liberation and other social justice causes – with all the conundrums these pose and despite the fact that these are also often at odds with the traditions and the status quo of groups with which we interact.

The reason vegans feel the need to make veganism about everything else under the sun is because we are an ideological minority and veganism is very far from being normative, so it stands out in a way that accepted positions don’t. The strategy of the People’s Harvest Forum was to consciously reverse that attitude and treat our empathy towards cows as something no different than our empathy for dogs. So in our panels on agroecology, there was of course an element that went against tradition, however those who promote agroecology will tell you that while they want to maintain tradition in how we grow food – to a large extent – they also want to do away with tradition in regards to relationships of power between men and women. There are vegans who would have liked to help build the food sovereignty movement and have had difficulty plugging in. Some have given up activism, others have given up veganism. Seed the Commons was created as third solution, a place for activists to work towards a transformation of our food system that includes nonhuman animals in our ethic.

Unfortunately, the animal rights movement is mostly focused on individual consumption – even the voices that pass for radical in the movement push the notion of voting with ones dollar. There needs to be a true radicalization of people in the movement (by this I do not refer to extremist tactics but rather to a focus on transformation of food systems instead of the liberal approach of improving structures/corporations). On the other side of it though, I don’t think the food sovereignty movement will easily take on animal liberation because so many people within the movement live off of animal exploitation. For better or worse, the social transformation here is probably going to be led by a more middle class, urban mainstream. As veganism becomes mainstreamed, it will be easier for people within radical movements to advocate for an inclusion of nonhuman animals.

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Your Intersectionality is Bullshit

These days I’m less connected to the animal rights movement and less present on social media, so I’m not on top of trends, but for a while intersectionality was a BIG THING. It’s always been bullshit, but I thought people had moved onto different framing, different language…. like “radical veganism”. I guess I was wrong. Getting back on facebook has me coming across pro-intersectional posts from vegans, so the bs still needs pointing out. 

I see the appeal of the punchy, self-righteous language, but this is empty virtue-signalling. The people who popularized “intersectionality” in the animal rights movement are in no way fighting against ALL oppression. Or even the most widespread oppressions. Who right now is organizing against the wars in the Middle East? What vegans are working with the labor movement? And don’t get me started on how the “intersectional” crowd is purging women who speak up for women from the movement.

These messages are harmful because they shame people away from their activism. Single-issue activism is completely fine as long as it doesn’t serve to oppress others. Yes, your animal rights activism should not become a vehicle or an excuse for racism. This is not the same as saying that if you spend time on animal rights activism you must also spend some time doing anti-racism activism. Basically, this is an All-Lives Matter response to animal rights or whatever other activism is being shamed (typically animal rights or women’s rights; other movements are more often left alone to do the limited good they do).

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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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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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