Unravel the Past and Craft the Future

By Charlotte Eure

The day before I woke to the nightmare of the post-election world, I finished reading a graphic novel about a different human disaster. Threadbare: Clothes, Sex, and Trafficking, written by Anne Elizabeth Moore in collaboration with six different comic artists, offers a beautifully simple way of communicating extensive information about a very complex web of exploitation and oppression. In four chapters, Moore explores connections between the garment industry, fashion, sex work, and anti-trafficking NGOs. For me, the book served as part of the constant and necessary reminder that there is so much I don’t know and so much history lying beneath seemingly innocuous aspects of our lives.

While reading Threadbare, I saw many similarities to our culture’s animal use. We buy final products ready to cook, ready to wear. We don’t ever have to see the violent and exploitative processes that lead to their placement in stores for our convenience. Our consumerism is often the epitome of ignorant bliss, and oppressive systems encourage us to remain oblivious, an unfortunately easy task in an image-obsessed and superficial culture. Most of us really don’t like it when someone drudges up all the nasty shit at the core of our choices. Especially in a time when even a lot of social justice rhetoric centers personal choice and individualism, challenges to dearly held personal expression are typically unwelcome. The refrain often goes, “If something makes me feel good, how can it be wrong? I know everything is terrible. You don’t need to remind me. Just let me enjoy my bacon and H&M dress in peace. Let me hold on to my bigotry and prejudice. I’m not hurting anybody!”

But of course pleasure doesn’t exist in a vacuum even if it might feel that way in the moment, and even though pleasure matters, which it does – we are not here to just suffer and survive.

Our role as consumers is also only part of the design. Marginalized communities experience limitations that further complicate notions of choice. Dressing a certain way is often a key to accessing resources. Food deserts create disparities, and authorities may spread misinformation around nutrition and health. Connections exist amongst the animal agriculture industry and the medical industry as they do amongst the garment industry and NGOs. Corporations build factories overseas and move slaughterhouses and CAFOs to rural areas of the US in part to keep them hidden from the majority of white, middle and upper class consumers. This is painfully obvious in the rerouting of the Dakota Access Pipeline from a predominantly white neighborhood through sacred Native land at Standing Rock.

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It can all feel overwhelmingly hopeless, as though we are powerless against an unstoppable force. And we need to forgive ourselves when we’re exhausted, when we’re scared, when we need time and space to heal and regain strength. But still, what we do matters, and it matters that we stretch ourselves to make imperative connections. Most of us don’t have to think about women in the garment industry, just as we don’t have to think about slaughterhouse workers or CAFO and dairy farm workers, but we can and we must.

The pain and suffering we are willing to allow others to experience for a singular momentary pleasure is one of the most heinous human traits. And the farther removed we are from each other, the more easily this exchange occurs. It doesn’t just take physical distance. We distance ourselves psychologically and emotionally with all kinds of mental gymnastics, often going so far as to acknowledge intellectually the harm we are doing yet refusing to empathize and imagine different ways of being and doing.

Empathy and imagination are crucial to not only our survival but to our ability to thrive. With Donald Trump’s election and a Republican majority, life is looking very bleak. But if there is one small sliver of comfort I take, it’s that more of us than ever are admitting this. The world of Donald Trump as president is one where horrors are revealed. Where once a postracial lens seemed to pacify so many (and will frustratingly continue to for some), I hope we heed this message in all its importance: we can’t keep ignoring our collective nightmares. We can’t keep pretending that all is well simply because so many of us don’t have to see where and when it is most certainly not. We have to confront our waste, our terrors, our injustice.

We may look for ways to alleviate the guilt that may come with admitting our complicity by placing the blame elsewhere or by justifying our behavior with desperate clinging to harmful traditions, just as Trump looks back to the past with the haze of nostalgia that it somehow used to be better, when we know it has been bad, it was never not bad. Resist guilt and instead take responsibility. As upsetting as it is to face the horrors of fast fashion or animal use or white supremacist patriarchy, it is also liberating. It is then we can begin to create a life otherwise.

In Threadbare, Moore writes, “Usually, an enforced culture of silence shrouds abuse and coercion.” To stop the cycle of abuse against our planet and each other, we must begin by acknowledging and speaking on the atrocities of the past – and I mean the past as recent as minutes ago. Be vigilant in this. Don’t let your fleeting pleasure and comfort excuse another’s oppression. Don’t let your ignorance fuel injustice. Move closer to empathy, to compassion, to movement and growth. If ever there was a time for us to learn and build new paths forward together, now is that time. If history has shown us anything, it’s that now has always been that time.

 

 

The Hypocrisy of a Butcher’s “Vulnerability”

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By Charlotte Eure, with Justin Van Kleeck

I recently read an article about the latest butcher/hunter being oh-so vulnerable by killing a defenseless being, talking about how super spiritual it is to murder someone as long as that someone is a different species and is culturally acceptable to cut up and eat.

I’ll share my favorite puke-inducing section from that article, and let me preface with a big LOL and some sobbing at the idea of respecting life as you rob someone of it but anyway:

“Both on paper and in person, Leigh’s respect for life and for the land shines through—as does, somewhat unexpectedly, her vulnerability. In her book, for instance, she includes a scene in which she prepares to slaughter a lamb named Hercules at a friend’s farm. ‘I drove all the way there with my troubles thick upon my back,’ she writes, and then describes the smell of hay in the barn, the look of the lamb’s eyes, and the mountains rising up in front of them as the lamb dies.”

Murder really heightens the senses, apparently. I’m pretty sure serial killers are on that shtick too. But who knew that as long as you choose the right victims, you can turn your sadism into vulnerability? The mental gymnastics! Humans are amazing.

People in positions of domination who exercise authority and power to enact violence often co-opt the language of vulnerability. This hurts me more than it hurts you. I do this because I love you. Lies. Domination is the rejection of vulnerability. Domination embraces power. It works to rationalize and excuse unnecessary violence as though it is in the best interest of everyone. It’s egoism. It’s how humans can make the slaughter of actual vulnerable beings all about their own feelings. “Ah, I’m so connected with the Earth now that I’ve denied someone else their connection to it. Especially now that the lamb is finally not screaming anymore, I can really take in all this beautiful scenery!”

A million myths exist to perpetuate our use of animals. One of the nastiest is that our hierarchical and exploitative relationship with them is naturally beautiful, spiritual, and loving. The idea that loving someone means violently killing them because we want to – for whatever reason – perverts the very meaning of the concept. Leigh saw “the look in the lamb’s eyes” like it was just another part of the scenery. What was that look? Why no mention of the inevitable struggle that ensued? Why no mention of the way in which Leigh killed the lamb? Instead the lamb passively died? Of course. In this story, as is often the case when the humane myth is at work, the horrific act of slaughtering an animal who wants to live becomes a mutual decision in honor of nature, one in which the victim participates willfully and in which the violence is somehow an act of respect and happens peacefully.

The only vulnerable person in the moment during which Leigh slaughtered a lamb was the lamb. Leigh, however, is eager to co-opt that experience and make it about herself and her anxiety surrounding her decisions to inflict violence and death upon the vulnerable, a despicably typical rationale for abuse of power. In this way, she clouds the hierarchical relationship that exists. She complicates her dominant position and her abusive behavior. She tells us, “It’s hard for me too!” Yet she emerges from that moment unscathed. In fact, she emerges with a prize! She now has parts to sell and to consume. Meanwhile, we’ll never fully know what the lamb experienced as they realized they were in danger, as they felt blade pierce their flesh, as they bled to death in the shadow of a killer who took solace in the beauty of the mountainside. (I mean, really??)

In another interview, Leigh fills out the sketch of her transition from vegan to “ethical butcher” (yes, you read that right). “High school exposure to horrific slaughterhouses, corporate domination, and empathy for fellow her fellow earthlings had turned her off meat. But everything changed after a trip to the third world—where she witnessed a population whose lives and livelihoods depended on animal protein (every last bit of it).” Confronting the very real fact of “third world” [sic] hunger and poverty, Leigh responds by seeking “ethics” in the American food system by booting living beings out of her field of ethical consideration and into the limbo of the absent referent.

We see the slipping away of living individuals for Leigh as she recalls asking herself, “We have hungry people in our country and we’re not going to eat something because we’re afraid to? Or because of regulation? Or because of whatever our culture has deemed normal?”

Whatever reasons Leigh has crafted to explain her decision to dominate, the least she can do is stop pretending that she is somehow vulnerable in that decision. The least she can do is acknowledge that the moment she willfully slaughters another being, she is fully in power. She is dominating. She wields a knife against the actual defenseless, vulnerable being.

Perhaps the most disturbing horror of Leigh’s “ethical” worldview is that her conscience can simultaneously feel a desire to care for and to treat “humanely” other beings, while also always already seeing them as dead bodies, as cuts of meat and grist for the gustatory mill. This sort of moral dysphoria takes for granted that other animals exist for us, and any nod towards individualizing them (and their concomitant “welfare”) becomes arguably the greatest betrayal imaginable—they each are equally someone and no one, a fragile life and a heap of carrion on the table.

This hypocrisy of perspective and narrative is enacted more and more, becoming normalized to the point of fetish in modern food culture: for example, a food co-op in Durham, North Carolina is celebrating community with a “farm to feast” lamb roast…but don’t worry, vegans, there’ll be vegan options too!

Leigh wields her power by the domination of true vulnerability, but through the logical twists of the humane myth, she can become an icon of compassion while committing murder. There is nothing vulnerable in her position…

And don’t even get me started on the nightmares experienced by oppressed groups coerced by capitalism into slaughterhouse jobs NOR on women trying to empower themselves by enacting traditionally masculine violence against other marginalized, vulnerable bodies. J/K, please get me started.

 

 

 

 

Microsanctuaries: A Micro-Manifesto

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By Justin Van Kleeck

As ethical vegans who are also interested in helping animals living in this world right now because of humans, my partner, Rosemary, and I began to rescue farmed animals in order to get them out of the agricultural system—not to give them “better” living spaces in which they were still exploited, but to get them out once and for all.

We started the Triangle Chance for All microsanctuary, and from that The Microsanctuary Movement, around two hens: Clementine and Amandine. All of our rescue efforts on typical “pet” species took on a new quality when we transitioned to farmed animals. Once we rescued these hens from a shelter and began to interact with them as individuals, not as abstract concepts, the notion of being “vegan for the animals” took on a profound new importance.

Living amongst such wondrous beings, we began to reconsider – and to deconstruct – the ideal of an animal sanctuary. In late 2013, we had moved to a three-acre property outside of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where our view consists of a wall of trees rather than rolling pastures. But, in the course of applying vegan ethical considerations to the two hens suddenly residing in our house, we decided that we could scale the model down and get creative with what we have, not what we think we “should have,” in order to provide permanent shelter and care to our rescues. We began to see ourselves as building a “microsanctuary.”

Much has happened in the intervening two years since the lovely Clem and Am came into our lives. Fortunately, they are still living here with us, along with many other old and new residents of the microsanctuary. In every moment, though, they and the other roosters and hens who live here with us remind us of the value and importance of every life—even the lives that a speciesist, commodifying, cravenly capitalist society tells us are worthless. Baby chickens cost a couple of bucks at most, and roosters are “worth” even less; in a throwaway culture that concocts all sorts of selfish notions about what is “good,” these beings are the lowest of the low.

But to us they are everything.

Let us be clear about this: A microsanctuary is as much about ethos as it is about property sizes and resident numbers. A microsanctuary is grounded on the idea that sanctuary is a state of mind, and building one’s (human) life around the well-being of (non-human) animals is not only important but central to the ethos and ethic of veganism.

A microsanctuary can be any space run by a vegan (or multiple vegans) that is home to rescued animals and emphasizes their health and happiness above all else. So someone with a rescued house rooster is just as much a sanctuary (by virtue of being a microsanctuary) as a million-dollar non-profit with hundreds of acres and hundreds of animals.

This is important: We have to question the conceptual cultural categories we vegans inherit—such as “food” animal and “pet”—and we have to stop accepting the agricultural model as the ideal for these beings we suppose to respect. This is what microsanctuaries are doing.

By throwing out the ideal of what a farmed animal sanctuary “should” look like, Rosemary and I were able to really think about what sanctuary means for the residents and the caregivers in situations like ours. It is a revolutionary relationship and way of living, for modern vegans; it involves completely rethinking our perspective on the world and redefining ourselves in the (radical) role of caregivers.

This sense of dedication to the direct service of rescued farmed animals, as a way to end their exploitation, is what lies at the heart of sanctuary—and on an individual level truly defines a microsanctuary. To understand ourselves as vegans in light of the relationships we have with these beings is not only what defines our existence as co-habitants of a microsanctuary, but also shapes our notion of why we do what we do and where our moral obligations as vegans truly lie: to the animals.

Seen in this light, veganism is no longer so much a negative orientation, in the sense that we are trying to not cause harm or not be part of exploitation. It feels so much more positive to have a direct role in the care of the very individuals for whom most of us went vegan. Rosemary and I are and always have been vegan for the animals; saving and sustaining the lives of as many of them as we can has given our veganism so much more depth, meaning, and relevance.

Make no mistakes here: Microsanctuaries are meant to be radical spaces, just as microsanctuary vegans need to be a radical force.

What we seek is a world in which no individual being is used as a means to an end, and no individual being is made to feel (or be treated as) lesser than for any reason. That will only be possible with a staggeringly comprehensive overhaul of everything that we know in our modern life. It cannot happen if we keep bringing humans into the world as we do, and keep consuming in the ways and amounts that we do, and keep pretending that the human species has some special significance in the universe that makes it more valuable than any other, and keep rationalizing why it is okay for us to benefit from the suffering and exploitation of other beings so that our way of life can keep humming right along.

We as a species, as a culture, as a society, need to learn humility, and we need to recognize the value of other lives as much as we need to understand the tragedy of forcing them, without consent and for our pleasure, into existence.

Cleaning up chicken poop daily is a wonderful way to make that learning happen.

Go do it.

Originally published in Barefoot Vegan magazine, July/August 2016. Download a PDF version of the article here.

The 2016 Vegan Mac ‘n Cheese Smackdown – A Magnificent Spectacle

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It’s taken a few months for me to fully process the 2016 Vegan Mac ‘n Cheese Smackdown and be able to put it all down on paper – from the good and the really good to the bad and the really bad. At the moment of its inception, the members of both the PEP Foods collective and Baltimore Vegan Drinks knew instinctively that this event had massive potential. I remember getting goosebumps on my arms as we discussed the possibility – the audacity, really – of planning a large-scale vegan mac ‘n cheese competition in Baltimore City. For me, the thought of an event like this one was equal parts exhilarating and terrifying – I knew it had a chance to be a smashing success but couldn’t help but entertain thoughts of it being a miserable failure. As is often the case in life, Baltimore’s 1st Annual Vegan Mac ‘n Cheese Smackdown was a little bit of both.

We started with an organizing Dream Team. Between the members of the PEP Foods Collective and Baltimore Vegan Drinks, we were working with so much event planning experience that there was a less than 0% chance that the Smackdown would be poorly organized. We each had our own distinct areas of expertise. Whether it was social media promotion, logistics, budgeting, public relations etc., we had someone on our team who kicked ass in that area. And even though this was the first time PEP Foods and Baltimore Vegan Drinks had ever collaborated on anything, we worked as if we’d been organizing events together for years. It would in no way be an exaggeration to say that the organizing phase of the Smackdown was near flawless.

The moment we announced the event, it gained immediate traction and folks started pre-registering both as chefs and attendees. The excitement was palpable and as organizers we found ourselves working around the clock to keep up with all the inquiries we were getting from people who were interested in the event. Between the comments and questions on the Facebook page, the emails to the PEP Foods and Baltimore Vegan drinks websites and the regular phone calls, it was quite a challenge to keep up. Add to that all the supply procurement, food and drink purchasing, media outreach, marketing and promotion, volunteer and chef coordination, regular communication with the health department, fire department and various other event planning minutiae and our organizing Dream Team had our work cut out for us!

Not long after we had signed the contract with the event venue, it started to become apparent from the large number of pre-registrations that there was a chance that the Smackdown could outgrow the venue. There were no guarantees, of course, that the numbers would actually exceed the capacity of the space, but it was getting close enough for us to be concerned. Of course, there wasn’t a whole lot we could do about it at that point – the capacity of the space was 600 people, the pre-registrations had gotten up to 400 a week before the event, and although there was the possibility that we would get more than 200 walk-up attendees, there was just no way to know for certain and so we proceeded with our organizing efforts keeping our fingers crossed that the numbers would just work themselves out. The numbers did not just work themselves out.

Volunteers

On the afternoon of the Smackdown, our 30 chef participants were set up and ready to sample their vegan mac ‘n cheeses, our dozen or so volunteers were at their various stations, our judges had taken their positions at the judges’ table, our MC was at the microphone and we were ready to start the event. Oh, and there were hundreds of people standing outside the door in a line that stretched two city blocks. I think even as attendees moved through the line and began rapidly filling the venue, each of the organizers – myself included – was so engaged in managing whichever aspect of the Smackdown to which we were assigned that it didn’t initially sink in how massive the event was becoming. I, for one, was so hyper-focused on providing for the chefs’ various supply needs that I didn’t realize how packed the room had gotten until I was swallowed up in the crowd and literally couldn’t move through it. By then, of course, the wheels were already in motion and the Smackdown train wasn’t about to be stopped.

We estimate that over one thousand people showed up to the event.

To a vegan mac ‘n cheese competition.

In Baltimore City.

That actually happened.

 

TheLine

As confident as all the organizers had been that our event was going to be a success, none of us could have imagined that a thousand people would line up outside those doors. We were more than prepared to accommodate 500 or even 600 people. But a thousand? Nuh-uh. And so the venue was packed beyond capacity, the lines to sample mac ‘n cheese were chaotic, participants were hot and irritated – with the occasional thumbs up and, “Wow, this is awesome, great event guys!” thrown in – and the organizers and volunteers spent almost the entire time in a perpetual state of scrambling to keep up with the pace of the event. The Dream Team had been bested by our own success.

On the upside, the attendees seemed to really enjoy sampling all the delicious variations of vegan mac ‘n cheese our chefs had cooked up. Even though the lines to get samples were long and excruciatingly slow, people appeared to be very engaged with the chefs, asking questions and giving feedback as they made their winding way around the room. When all was said and done the chefs had a blast and we actually got quite a bit of positive feedback and helpful constructive criticism from the attendees. Of course, there was plenty of not-so-helpful – and quite frankly vicious – criticism from those who were appalled that they should have had to wait in line (some of them for up to 45 minutes!) to engage in their God-given right to sample copious amounts of vegan mac ‘n cheese. But you know what they say: You can please all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time …

Vegan Refocused       Chef Green

Of all of the lessons we learned from the magnificent spectacle that was the 2016 Vegan Mac ‘n Cheese Smackdown, one of our biggest faux pas that I still regret to this day is that we didn’t send a volunteer outside with a clipboard to check off the pre-registered attendees and expedite their entry into the event. Honestly, I’m convinced that had I been stationed at the entrance it would have occurred to me pretty early on that it was unfair for people who’d pre-registered and paid ahead of time to have to stand in the same long line as those who’d just walked up off the street. Alas, no one thought of doing this simple thing that probably would have stemmed the flood of negative backlash we got from some of the people who attended the Smackdown. But you live and you learn, and we certainly learned a lot from this event!

As for the 2017 Vegan Mac ‘n Cheese Smackdown, the Dream Team will be coming back together in the very near future to start planning for an even bigger event – this time with full knowledge that Baltimore City is ready, willing and able to throw down on all the hot, gooey mac ‘n cheesy goodness we can throw at them – and this time we’ll be ready to put on a truly spectacular event! Until then, may we all strive to make kinder, more sustainable choices that benefit our health, the Earth and all those with whom we share this beautiful planet!

 

#LetsGoVegan

Brenda Sanders Joins the Striving with Systems Collaborator Crew

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All of us at Striving with Systems are overjoyed to announce that Brenda Sanders, a tireless vegan community activist in Baltimore City, Maryland, has joined us as a collaborator!

Brenda Sanders serves as Executive Director of Better Health, Better Life, a public health organization, and is Co-Director of Open the Cages Alliance, an animal advocacy organization in Baltimore, MD. Through Better Health, Better Life, Brenda runs the Eating for Life program, a series of free workshops aimed at teaching people in low-income communities how to prepare healthy vegan food. With Open the Cages Alliance, she co-organizes the Vegan Living Program, a six-week education program that teaches the basics of transitioning to the vegan lifestyle. Brenda is also co-creator of Vegan SoulFest, an annual festival that celebrates culture and the vegan lifestyle, and she’s a founding member of PEP Foods, a collective of food justice activists and business owners whose goal is to bring affordable vegan food to low-income communities in Baltimore City.

The Inescapable Speciesism of “Progressive” Media

By Justin Van Kleeck

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Having lived with chickens for several years now, I can quite clearly see just how impossible it is for mainstream America and the media serving it–whether far “right” or far “left”–to step back from a conceptual framework that positions non-human animals as lesser beings here for our consumption.

A rather jaw-dropping example is a recent article in Mother Jones about the problems with so-called “cage-free” eggs. As we all should expect by now, the article shocks no one in its shocking revelation that the “cage-free” label on a carton of eggs means much less than most starry-eyed egg-eaters think it does…

Articles like this are endlessly frustrating because they assume, reinforce, and depend upon the premise that non-humans (in this case egg-laying hens) are, inextricably, objects within the human food system, and thus they emphasize the details of treatment over the ethics of use.

That is, in ethical terms, they are asking the wrong questions because, in virtually every single case, they are depending on a conceptual framework in which chickens (like other consumable animals) are food, always and already and forever...

Every single journalist who wants to do a story on the “transition” (ha ha) to “cage-free” eggs (ha ha) should, instead, take a big step back and think about a few other issues, if they actually want to do some compelling (or “progressive” or even fucking less exhaustively trite) journalism.

1. Where are the boys? Chickens (like most species) give birth to roughly equal numbers of male and female offspring. But where are the boys at these supposedly more “humane” cageless egg farms? Answer: they are dead. They are almost all dead (the few who make it out are usually dead, just at a later date) because hatcheries (where virtually every chick today is born) kill them outright…because no one wants them. Why in the name of profit would a farmer raise a boy–feeding and caring for (ha ha) them–the same way as a hen who will lay the eggs that farmer sells???

2. How many of these supposedly “happier” hens are going to lay like mad for a year or so, then lay fewer eggs, and then either be slaughtered *because* they are less productive or die because they develop one of the inevitable health problems laying hens experience as a direct result of selective breeding for egg production–including egg-yolk peritonitis, ovarian cancer, or one of the many other related conditions?

3. As long as major media outlets (as well as so, so many vegans…) promote the notion that there is a “better” (read “acceptable”) way to use non-humans for food, what you will encounter is a gentrification of the food system (“happy” animals are expensive animals, obviously) coupled with a continued exploitation of non-human animals for human food, to the utter detriment of the non-humans. There is no necessary (or even sufficient) imperative to stop eating animals in a narrative that says treating them “better” is less deplorable than treating them like Descartes’ automata.

To take the position that “nicer” exploitation is somehow acceptable means both condoning violence and excusing the vast number of humans who actively crank out endorphins over being “compassionate” animal lovers/exploiters, completely ignoring the paradox that recognizing the need to be “nicer” to animals necessitates asking why they deserve to be treated any nicer than cogs and robots. At all.

This happens all the time, of course… One glaring example is how NPR, the great bastion of liberal media, seemed to do story after story in the summer/fall of 2015 on how rough of a time the food industry was having because Avian Influenza was killing (or causing to be murdered) millions of laying hens, which meant egg prices were going up. GASP–chefs and bakers had to look at plant ingredients instead, or pay more for eggs as supply decreased!!!

The complete inability of supposedly progressive journalists and media to actually think about the underlying ethical problems and real-time implications (on the victims) of the exploitative, speciesist food system is borderline criminal. To watch instance after instance of it occur is as disconcerting as it is disappointing.

But then again, what incentive would the media outlets–catering as they do to a culture as pleased by bacon as it is by “happy” eggs–have to do otherwise than applaud mediocre measures that make everyone feel nice as they eat their omelette?

The answer: none.

Nonhuman Animals Are Others: On Learning to Judge and the Limits of Choice

By Charlotte Eure

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Everyday Feminism recently published a video that asks, “Does Feminism Require Vegetarianism or Veganism?” The editors introduce vlogger Celia Edell as “a feminist vegetarian who doesn’t apply her choice to others.”

So you know you’re in for a slimy ride into the more tender parts of hell: those rotten sections of our culture where we feel like everything is cool and totally a choice and all about personal preference. In those special caverns, we find endless excuses for our complicity in oppressive systems. We get there and love to say, “You know what? You do you. I can’t judge!” Which is especially funny when moments earlier we were banging the gavel to shut down fundamentally the same garbage we now find ourselves swimming in like it’s a private pool on a hot summer day.

If the video stuck to a discussion about why feminists are not required to be vegan, I likely wouldn’t have a problem with it. Unfortunately, Edell gets into the idea that being vegan/vegetarian (two entirely different concepts, by the way) boils down to personal choice. In fact, she says, some people can’t be vegan, so. …So what? So we just shouldn’t care about the horrific injustices of animal use? We shouldn’t care, for instance, that cows are impregnated over and over to continue producing milk until they can’t stand any longer, at which point they are killed? That the dangerous practices of slaughtering vulnerable animals and stealing babies from their mothers has serious psychological effects on workers, who are often demonized for abuses inherent to the work? We shouldn’t examine why someone might struggle to be vegan?

Institutions and ideologies exist which constrain our choices and teach us to engage in oppressive behavior, and the powerful often thrive on limiting our access to knowledge and alternative resources. Animal use doesn’t exist in a vacuum but is part of the foundation of the exploitation and oppression of those marked as other. Vegans, including those with eating disorders and limited access to resources – vegans completely erased by the rhetoric in this video – have grappled with these issues and contributed to a complex conversation about power, privilege, and ethics that is absent from Edell’s video. Instead, we get a disappointing moral relativism and frustrating refusal to accept accountability.

When we speak on issues of injustice from a place of ignorance as though we are an informed source, we are more likely to reinforce oppression than to challenge it, especially when we occupy spaces of privilege and try to speak for people outside those spaces. A paltry discussion of animal rights is not necessary to make the point that feminists can be disengaged from movements for nonhuman justice and still be feminists. To leap from that point to one that minimizes nonhuman oppression and erases already marginalized members of the vegan community reveals a lack of care to truly understand the subject from more relevant perspectives and histories not the vlogger’s own, which is why her argument ends up being about opinions instead of systems.

It’s hard to discern at times when we might do more harm than good by speaking when we know the dangers of silence, but there is so much potential for growth in learning to recognize those spaces where we should listen before we speak. Before you feel you have to add to a conversation, you might find that others have already spoken on the topic with much more grace, nuance, and experience than you could have. And that should be a good thing! Our world needs more people willing to seek out the critical and creative voices who have devoted their time and energy to movements for social change than act like everything’s relative so they can stay comfy in complicity.