Breed Restrictions Apply

By Christopher Sebastian McJetters

whites-only

Few messages hurt my heart more than ‘Breed Restrictions Apply.’ Reminds me of a time in recent memory when such words applied to my grandparents. Oh, it was phrased differently. It probably read ‘Whites Only’ or ‘No Coloreds Allowed.’ But it meant the same thing.

“Only a certain aesthetic is welcome here. We will judge you based on stereotypes reinforced by years of institutionalized discrimination. We will fear you. We will enact ‘breed-specific legislation’ against you. In some cases, our law enforcement and judicial system will even seek to have you…put down. It’s not personal. It’s just the way you are.”

Am I an aggressive breed? Am I unwelcome because I don’t look pleasing to your eyes? Am I unappealing because of my large muzzle and pronounced features? Will you treat me differently if I promise not to harm your kids? If I explain to you that I’m not violent? That years of your systemic abuses have disenfranchised me?

I just want to live my life.

I don’t seek to threaten your way of being.

I know I look different. But I’m a good dog.

(Note: This post is dedicated to and in loving memory of Sally, founding dog of BadRap.org. Please read her eulogy here.)

Food Is Power: Interview with lauren Ornelas of Food Empowerment Project

Food is a complicated affair. As vegans know, getting other humans to examine their food choices and (more importantly) change them can feel like trying to pick up the Earth and move it a few planets farther out. 

Part of the urgency we feel with food arises from the reality that it has so many ramifications on our planet, beyond whether or not we are eating other animals. This means every choice counts…and that achieving justice involves much more than going vegan. Factors ranging from treatment of workers, to environmental impact, to access to food, and much more are all crucial considerations we have to make if we truly care about just food.

Far too few vegans and “animal rights” activists venture outside of the ethics of eating (and otherwise using) animal products, but lauren Ornelas, founder of Food Empowerment Project, is an outspoken advocate for true food justice and against exploitation in all its forms. I first corresponded with lauren after writing about the influence growing up poor had on me as a vegan, and I have been awed by her work and Food Empowerment Project’s growing presence since then…

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Can you talk about your process of going vegan? When was it, and what factors played into your decision to stop participating in the exploitation of animals?

I went vegetarian when I was about five years old when my mom told me that the chicken I was eating was, well, a chicken. It wasn’t until I was 16 that I was able to stick with that decision (for a variety of reasons), but I had already stopping buying leather products. However, when I was 17 I was connected with an animal rights group in my area and learned about factory farming—it was then that I went vegan. I think, overall, the biggest factor for me when I was five was not wanting to break up families or being responsible for their separation. This April will be my 27-year vegan anniversary.

What motivated you to start Food Empowerment Project, and how did you build it up into the organization it is today?

One of my motivations for starting Food Empowerment Project was my frustration with animal rights activists who did not like me talking about the suffering of human animals in various industries, including chocolate, when I was asked by interviewers if animal rights people only cared about the suffering of non-human animals.

My passions were also stirred when I went to speak at the World Social Forum in Caracas, Venezuela, and realized so many issues that I also cared about, such as workers, the environment, indigenous rights, immigration, etc., were all related to food.

I wanted to have an organization that strove for justice in all of these areas.

What have been some of your biggest victories so far? What issues are a priority for you moving forward?

To me the biggest victory has been the evolution of people understanding our work. Not that all vegans understand it, but many seem to be understanding (or at least being less hostile) to our desire to connect these issues. Food Empowerment Project has been around since 2007, but only recently does it seem as if our work is being sincerely recognized.

Getting people to understand the connections of oppression and our ability to work together (and not be separated by specific focus or being an expert) is a huge victory in my eyes. Although in a more tangible form, our work over several years to get Clif Bar to disclose the country of origin for their chocolate was a big victory.

Our priorities continue to be hindered by our slow rate of growth in funding (an area which shows that people are only just now starting to understand the importance of our work, but funding is not pouring in).

Fortunately, with a great group of volunteers we will continue to work promoting the issues of ethical veganism, fight for justice for farm workers, discourage people from buying chocolate from areas where the worst forms of child labor are taking place and get companies to be transparent on their sourcing, and continue our work with communities on the lack of access to healthy foods.

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There is some criticism in the vegan movement of “single-issue campaigns.” Would you consider FEP’s actions—e.g., targeting Clif Bar for their chocolate sourcing—to be single-issue campaigns? How do you respond to that sort of criticism, if you encounter it?

Campaigns have to be single issue in a sense if you want concrete change versus general outreach. For example, you can have a long-term goal to get all animals out of marine parks, to abolish marine parks, but perhaps your smaller goal is to shut one of them down. I am a campaigner, and I like concrete goals in order to know if I am having an impact versus just hoping or assuming I am.

When it comes to Clif Bar, I don’t find it to be a single issue as we were targeting a company that makes primarily vegan products. Our goal was to get them to be transparent. We want all companies that make vegan products to be transparent, but we can’t just tell them all that and think we can get somewhere. In an ideal world, sure. But the reality is that corporations aren’t going to make changes for the good unless we demand it from them and we’re specific about what we are asking of them.

Along with your work with FEP, you do a lot of speaking about activism and intersectionality. What are some of your priorities as an activist?

Yes, I do talk about how issues are connected. My priorities as an activist change and they evolve. Currently, I would say they are in a constant struggle to block out the noise of those who are not doing strategic work and to make sure that F.E.P. works in a way that is consistent with our ethics. It is tough to juggle, but we do our best. And also as an individual I want to be sure to keep active with strategic campaigns and outreach efforts for both animal liberation and human justice.

More importantly, what do you feel the vegan movement needs to do in the context of other social justice movements? What have we done well, and what do we need to do better?

FEP School Supply Drive beneficiary.
FEP School Supply Drive beneficiary.

I think the vegan movement should not sell out other social justice issues that are also advocating for those who are being exploited, marginalized, abused, and killed. I don’t ask for vegans to give up their good, just, and necessary fight for non-human animals, but to work to be consistent by not supporting chocolate that comes from child labor and to be educated about using incorrect statements such as, “Anyone can be vegan if they really want to be.”

We need to do better about truly connecting the issues. Connecting issues does not mean you only talk about other social justice issues as a pretext for getting others to go vegan. It means truly understanding how these issues are connected and work with others to stop them. It’s important to remind yourself that you might be an expert when it comes to animal issues, but perhaps you’re not with other issues, so there is a time to lead and a time to follow.

I am particularly interested to get your perspective on how to make (ethical) veganism less of a phenomenon of the privileged—despite the historic associations between animal rights and white supremacy—and more about enabling everyone be able to make healthy, sustainable, just food and lifestyle choices. What can individual vegans do, and what has to be changed on a larger socio-economic scale?

I think vegans can and need to be honest. If they are creating recipes, let’s not pretend that anyone can make it because it is made from scratch and from whole foods. That is great for many, many people, but not everyone. Be honest and acknowledge that your meal ideas and recipes are very important and can help people go vegan, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking it is easy for everyone. It won’t work for people who only have access to tomato sauce, and for whom fresh produce is a potato and onion on an irregular basis, or for people who live in shelters or motels. They might care, but they might not have an option right now.

We all need to work for living wages. Living wages for everyone will mean they will have more access to healthy foods—including fruits and vegetables.

Little boy with backpack
FEP School Supply Drive beneficiary.

Are you optimistic that the vegan movement can grow out of its largely consumerist phase and actually make a difference in the lives of humans and non-humans everywhere? Why or why not? Do you have any suggestions for making veganism a real force for social justice?

I do think we can as long as we keep the issue at heart as the focal point. Look, unfortunately, capitalism is to blame for much of the ills in the world. And by using consumer campaigns we have to work to force corporations to make changes. But if we are dishonest about our goals, I believe we lose credibility. It’s important to keep the focus on the animals, and the reason why many of us do the work we do is because we do not want non-human animals to suffer, be abused, exploited, and killed. This way we keep the heart of the matter front and center and do not allow the dollar to be the focus.

It is important to remember that with a diet based primarily of fruits and vegetables, what we eat (and encourage others to eat) also comes from an abusive and exploitative industry. Farm workers in the US face some of the worst abuses in the food industry. They are not paid living wages (many get paid based on how much they pick), do not get benefits, they work in extreme environments (some collapse from heat exhaustion and die in the fields), are exposed to hazardous chemicals, and many of the women are victims of sexual abuse. These are issues vegans need to address.

Eating a cruelty-free diet will require that the rights of the farm workers are also met.

Thanks so much for speaking with me!

Thank you for wanting to cover our work!

The U.S. Meat Animal Research Center and the Torture of Domestication

The New York Times recently published a disturbing expose of the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, a tax-payer-funded testing facility run the by federal government that is seeking to create bigger, better, more productive versions of farmed animals.

The NYT story is utterly horrifying in what it reveals about the callous treatment of individual animals–from hormone injections that spur faster, bigger growth, to selective breeding for greater litter sizes. to abandoning unwanted babies and allowing them to die. And much, much more. As the article states:

Pigs are having many more piglets — up to 14, instead of the usual eight — but hundreds of those newborns, too frail or crowded to move, are being crushed each year when their mothers roll over. Cows, which normally bear one calf at a time, have been retooled to have twins and triplets, which often emerge weakened or deformed, dying in such numbers that even meat producers have been repulsed.

Then there are the lambs. In an effort to develop “easy care” sheep that can survive without costly shelters or shepherds, ewes are giving birth, unaided, in open fields where newborns are killed by predators, harsh weather and starvation.

One days' worth of eggs from TCA hens = the number of eggs laid per year by their wild ancestor.
One days’ worth of eggs from the former backyard hens at Triangle Chance for All’s Microsanctuary roughly equals the number of eggs laid per year by one of their wild ancestors.
This pathological abuse is horrible and cannot be justified. Period. Yet the reality of the situation is that these obvious tortures are not restricted to “factory” farming; they are inextricably connected to every farmed animal, no matter where they are living or how they are treated. Practically all farmed animals today grow at certain rates (like the “broiler” chickens raised for meat who are killed at six weeks old, long after they have become crippled by their own bulk), have certain numbers of babies, lay a certain number of eggs–all as a result of human manipulation–through selective breeding and more invasive genetic tinkering.

The resident hens at Triangle Chance for All are perfect examples. Almost all of them came from backyard flocks (not battery cages or “free-range/cage-free” farms), and each will lay between 250 and 300 eggs per year, unlike her wild ancestors, who lays between 10 and 15 eggs per year. All domesticated hens are victims of their own hijacked biology, and most will die well before their time because of this. In the case of other animals, their premature deaths typically come at the hands of a human–either because their flesh is desired, or their productivity (and thus their usefulness) has waned.

We can try to stave off this death, but there is only so much we can do. The only true way to stop the suffering of future generations is to go vegan and end the demand for ALL animal products, and if possible we can liberate animals from the oppression in which they live. But by going vegan, we take a huge step away from this endless torture by ending the demand for the altered, exploited bodies of the mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters.

(Originally published at Vegan Publishers.)

We Need To Admit That Broad City Blew It

Humor is a powerful tool that can make pain more manageable, but it is a tool that requires care and specificity. The humor I use to cope with trauma I have experienced may be horrifying to someone else who has experienced similar trauma, because humor as a coping mechanism isn’t going to work the same for everyone. This is especially apparent when we are talking about sexual trauma and violence. And so, many of us who celebrated the return of Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s Broad City this week were met with intense disappointment as our beloved BFFs chose to joke about rape.

Rape and rape culture are significantly different. The realities of rape culture are absurd, from the ways in which rape is normalized to the ways in which gender is constructed in the performance of domination. The system in place should be revealed for its real and dangerous absurdity, and we have to collectively confront rape culture as part of deconstructing and dismantling it. Rape, however, is a singular event – one that haunts and terrorizes long after the fact. Discussing the lived experience of rape can be harrowing. The only scenario in which some people feel safe talking about it may be with their most trusted friend, or never at all. How a person processes trauma and learns to live with it is extremely personal. Broad City’s casual storytelling of rape has alienated many fans who trusted the show to be a safe space from a painful trigger.

In addition to harming many viewers with its careless approach to a traumatic event, Broad City’s episode “In Heat” works to perpetuate rape culture rather than subvert it. Ilana’s nonsensical riff on rape culture at Lincoln’s dinner party only serves to delegitimize the idea of rape culture rather than reveal the absurdities of its very real yet illogical horrors. The nonchalance with which the rape of an unconscious person is handled confuses the concept of consent, which is a crucial issue that requires clarity to combat rape culture. Seth Rogen’s character, Stacey, suffers from heatstroke in the midst of having sex with Abbi, and rather than caring for him, Abbi continues to pleasure herself with his unconscious body. Some have argued that Stacey was clearly consenting up until that point, but even Ilana does not support that argument. Humans are incapable of consent while unconscious. Stacey’s enthusiasm while conscious does not transfer to his unconscious body.

Abbi eventually realizes this to some degree and shows remorse, but her remorse is supposed to be funny. She raped someone, and she’s a monster now – hilarious! Defense of the humor surrounding rape in this episode is defense of the idea that rapists can be funny and sympathetic. They just made a mistake! They feel bad, and they should focus on making themselves feel better. Turning Abbi into a lovable rapist is a toxic joke that laughs not with victims but at them, as oftentimes rapists hold powerful positions in their communities, and their behavior is excused as they attempt to solicit sympathy and understanding.

“It’s reverse rapism. You are raping rape culture,” Ilana tells Abbi. Ilana is supposed to be ridiculous. We are not supposed to take her seriously. But here she is not talking about weed or consensual sex. She is talking about rape, and rape doesn’t stop being serious in the mouth of a fool. We know Abbi did not rape rape culture. We know she raped a person, and it is a little bewildering, to say the least, that I feel the need to point out that this should not be comedic fodder in any context.

When Daniel Tosh joked about the gang rape of a woman in his audience, a critical discussion arose around rape jokes. But Broad City is beloved, and even the most avid critics have given them a halfhearted pass, while others have earnestly defended them. This is not to say that Jacobson and Glazer are operating on the level of Tosh, but it is to point out that we are less willing to criticize those we love, and that is a big problem.

Women can rape men, and Broad City at least acknowledged this fact. Unfortunately, beyond that, it led us to believe that women raping men just isn’t a big deal, which feeds into broader narratives that rape isn’t such a big deal, at least not always. In certain scenarios it’s just a goof – like if you’re a woman, and your partner passes out, it’s not really a big deal to continue having sex with his unconscious body. Just feel bad about it for a minute and go on with your day. This is the message I got from Broad City, and it is a message that works to support rape culture.

Many writers argue that Broad City’s embodiment of a kind of gender role reversal makes the humor acceptable. But this argument relies on a binary that reinforces the power dynamics of rape culture. Men and women aren’t monolithic categories, each encompassing a singular experience of gender. Of course, even taking into account the wide spectrum of gender identity and expression, women-identified folks experience far more sexual violence than men. But although our culture privileges men, rape is not an experience unique to women. Especially when we acknowledge the sexual violence experienced by men and women in the prison industrial complex, and we take into account the racism inherent in that system, the oblivious privilege behind broad generalizations about gender-swapping being an acceptable way to make light of rape is revealed. A joke about raping someone is oppressive no matter who tells it.

I am reminded here of the recent sweeping defense of Charlie Hebdo: people just don’t get that it’s apparently anti-racist satire to publish a racist depiction of a black woman as long as you place a lot of context around it making clear how anti-racist your publication really is. Broad City is a feminist show and therefore must have been cleverly satirizing rape culture. Sure, Abbi realizes she raped someone and immediately goes to have fun at Bed Bath & Beyond. No, we never see her talk to Stacey or tell him what happened. Yes, Ilana exposes people who talk about rape culture as silly fools. And okay, the episode spends more time commenting on the disgusting heat of summer in the city than it does on rape culture. But what they must have meant is that it’s wrong to rape, and that rape culture is real and in need of serious deconstruction.

We stretch for our idols in the hopes that they will remain flawless. I was rooting for Broad City. But they did not use humor to cope with pain or to point out the absurdity of an oppressive ideology. They were just being silly. They were being Abbi and Ilana. Unfortunately, neither Abbi nor Ilana is equipped to handle a topic like rape with the care that it requires, and Jacobson and Glazer should have known that. Our faves perpetuated rape culture, and it’s really not funny.

A Family Affair

YukiOne of the most significant changes for me in my evolution as an advocate against exploitation has come about through providing sanctuary to farmed animals. In the past, advocacy and activism were important to me but always impersonal and to a large degree abstract. They could be matters of convenience, picked up and put down whenever I chose.

Now, as Rosemary and I spend the majority of our days caring for and fretting over the well-being of individuals whom most humans see as mere objects, as simple and insignificant things, the impersonal has transformed into an imperative.

You see, animal liberation can never again be anything but personal. Our work towards the end of exploitation is no longer abstract; it is individuated. It is not just about food; it is a matter of FAMILY.

Perhaps there is a great untapped force for all of us in our advocacy and our activism, should we undertake the radical, revolutionary act of caregiving. If liberation is to happen, the struggle has to be personal for all of us. It has to be about family members, not abstractions. Liberation must be lived by us, enacted in our daily relationships, for anything less will fall short of the goal.

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Fighting the Chill: Interview with Sarahjane Blum

A few years ago, I learned about the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) and the U.S. government’s efforts to label animal rights and environmental activists as “terrorists.” As immediately offensive as all that information was, it was made all the more real–and terrifying–when I started connecting it to individual activists and their courageous work. 

One image that has stuck in my mind since those initial periods of research on AETA is of a woman standing in what looks like an industrial farming shed and holding a duck. 

Years later I was connected with Sarahjane Blum, the woman in the photo, while organizing an anti-AETA event in Chapel Hill, as part of a larger weekend of action put together by the Institute for Critical Animal Studies. Her experiences doing open rescue and other forms activism led her to take part in a lawsuit against the government, for its violations of First Amendment rights through AETA. With the rising interest in Open Rescue (thanks to the foundational work of Animal Liberation Victoria, and most recently Direct Action Everywhere), I was curious to get Sarahjane’s story as an open rescuer, her perspectives on direct action, the impact of AETA, and much more…

blum1Can you talk about your process of going vegan? When was it, and what factors played into your decision to stop participating in the exploitation of animals?

I realized the other day that I have been vegan for just over half my life. Which means that some of my memories of what took me down that road are fuzzy, and that some of my stories about my early veganism sound like a bad “back in my day we had to walk barefoot uphill to school and back” joke.

With that said, my process was pretty simple, though not quick. The weekend of July 4th, 1990, a friend of mine invited me to go out of town with his family. I was raised in New York City, in a very urban environment, without a lot of contact with animals other than squirrels, pigeons, and humans.

We went to this little island teeming with critters, and I sat around watching them mesmerized. The last day I was there, my friend and I went for a bike ride, and there was a raccoon on the side of the road who had just been run over by a car. I don’t know if this was actually the first time I had seen a dead animal in a context other than a dinner plate, but it felt like new knowledge. I was twelve at the time, and came home and told my parents I was going to stop eating meat.

From there on, it started to strike me how many seemingly unconnected choices involve animal use and exploitation. I started looking for shoes which weren’t made with leather; I saw an ad in the back of a magazine and wrote away for a booklet about alternatives to dissection and got on PETA’s mailing list; and the list of things that I tried to be conscious of kept growing.

Some time in there, I decided that when I left my parents house for college, I would go vegan. I still can’t remember when I first heard the term, and I had only ever met one vegan in my life at that point, but it seemed to me that if I could find a way to live a less-exploitative life, I should. And I’ve kept trying to do that ever since.

What has been your path as an activist and what issues got you into activism?

I’ve always been easily outraged, and done my best to act on that feeling. There wasn’t a petition I didn’t want to sign in my youth, or a social justice movement I didn’t want to support. And, again, this feels like a very long time ago, so forgive me the vagary. When I started getting connected into an activist scene, I tried to go to every event, get active for every cause, and soak up as much knowledge and passion as I could. I started going to weekly meetings at the Wetlands Collective in NYC, and organizing with the New York City Animal Defense League. Rather than me rehash old war stories about those days, I’m just going to suggest everyone head over to the Talon Conspiracy and take some time digging into the history of our movement.

You have been involved in “open rescue” direct action. Can you talk some about what open rescue is, how open rescues are conducted, and some of your experiences as a rescuer? Where does open rescue fit in to the tactics of the movement now as you see it?

In the early 2000s, I worked with a group of activists to conduct a nationwide investigation into the foie gras industry, and to rescue a number of ducks from farms where they were being force-fed to the brink of death. Without attempting to conceal our identities, we did our best to exhaustively videotape the conditions on the farms, and the slow rehabilitation of the birds we rescued. We spent months conducting the investigation, researching how the facilities worked and obtaining footage of all stages of these animals’ lives. We had veterinarians examine both the live animals we were able to rescue, and the dead animals we came across. Some of what took us months might be a much shorter process today because of improvements in technology, since a lot of logistical quandaries would have been avoided if we didn’t have to lug large camcorders or could have set up motion sensitive cameras. When we felt like we had a full picture, we started telling the stories of these birds, and the open rescue angle allowed us to personalize their stories and bring more attention to the suffering of animals being bred and raised for food than we would have been able to otherwise.

In our case, we were fortunate to attract a lot of attention. The exposure of the industry really got the attention of the movement, the public, and the media. There was a groundswell of outrage that helped pass the law outlawing foie gras farming and sales in California. (This week, as I was contemplating the questions you sent me, foie gras producers and restaurateurs won an appeal that at least temporarily allows foie gras to be served again, though its not clear if that’s a permanent shift. The production is still illegal, and the California farm that was the state’s only producer is out of business.) There was print and TV news coverage, and even a feel-good half-hour episode of a show on Animal Planet devoted to showing the rehabilitation of two ducks we rescued from Hudson Valley Foie Gras. That doesn’t sound so groundbreaking today, but looking back it seems clear that the outpouring of videos from undercover exposes and open rescues really opened the door for violence against animals to be covered and shown in a mainstream way on TV. Jane Velez-Mitchell and Whale Wars, to cite just a couple of examples, have demonstrated the market for stories about animal issues on TV and created frameworks (admittedly still limited) for having mainstream conversations that push back against the assumptions that underpin our treatment of non-human animals. The work done by groups and individuals undertaking undercover investigations and open rescues in the late 1990s/early 2000s is a clear part of that cultural shift.

The inroads that activists were making at that point in time led to backlash. The open rescue movement is just a small part of the story of the green scare, as it has become known. Everything from the SHAC campaign to the ALF to Vegan Outreach was bringing really unwanted attention to corporate interests that made their money by exploiting animals. Again, I won’t bore you with history, but encourage you to read Green is the New Red and Muzzling a Movement to learn about how lobbyists led the charge to pass the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). The AETA raised the stakes on any sort of civil disobedience or direct action and certainly it caused people to think twice before taking part in open rescue. But even while acknowledging that people backed away from direct action (and even speaking out on behalf of animals) after the passage of the AETA, I don’t think that tells the whole story about why we saw so few open rescues after 2006.

These past few years have seen a huge uptick in the number of breaking stories about undercover investigations. Now that you can get accurate depictions of the realities of farming on your cell phone, with a small hidden camera, go pro, or motion sensitive camera tucked inside a farm, or with a telephoto lens from way off, there are a lot of new, novel ways to start engaging people that use some of the same energy that drew us to open rescue. I’m thinking here of everything from Will Potter’s Kickstarter-supported Drone on the Farm project to the activists who are currently being prosecuted under Utah’s ag-gag laws for taking pictures of a hog farm from public property. There is still momentum to expose animal exploitation. There’s also still open rescue. I just watched the new Direct Action Everywhere egg-laying-hen rescue video this morning.

You are also one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the U.S. government in relation to AETA. Can you explain what the lawsuit is about and the current status?

In 2012, the badass lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed the lawsuit Blum v Holder asking the federal government to strike down Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act as unconstitutional. The plaintiffs in the suit were all long-time activists who felt the chilling effect of this law in our daily lives. As I said, I don’t think that the AETA was the sole reason for the fall-off of open rescue in the last decade, but I do know I curtailed my activism for a while when I felt the all-too-real threat of lengthy Federal prison sentences for engaging in that form of non-violent civil disobedience. The AETA presents an unconstitutional limitation on our first amendment rights, it’s clear. That was the basis of the lawsuit. But, because we were not actively being prosecuted under the law, there was a question of whether we had what’s known as “standing” to challenge it. In the end, rather than rule on the constitutionality of the law itself, the courts determined we didn’t have standing. On November 10th, 2014 the Supreme Court denied cert in our case, which means we can’t take it any further. It’s disappointing, but more disappointing is the fact that during the period when our suit was winding through court, Kevin Oliff and Tyler Lang were charged under the AETA for allegedly freeing mink and foxes from fur farms. CCR is working to get their case dismissed, but they need all the support they can get.

You live in a hotbed of radical vegan activism in Minneapolis. Are you involved in a lot of the actions going on there? Why do you think Minneapolis has attracted so many passionate, innovative vegans?

I’m a transplant to Minneapolis almost by accident, so I am probably the worst person to ask anything about why people end up there. It was a happy accident, though, as Minneapolis does have a really robust activist and radical culture, particularly for a town its size.

Not just in terms of animal issues. I remember a zine circulating around the RNC in 2008 called The Struggle is Our Inheritance that goes back through 50 years or so of radical action in Minnesota—actions that it seems like people in the rest of the country don’t know nearly as much about as they should. I guess between this and the earlier Talon shout out, it’s pretty clear that I think getting grounded in history is critical for being engaged in social change.

I show up to as many events as I can, but with how you phrased the question I have to be honest and say that day-to-day I don’t get to as many events as I’d like. I am torn between kicking myself for not doing more (which is the primary reflex action of most people who are drawn to trying to change the world around them), and being thrilled that there are so many people organizing around social justice issues that there’s no way one person could everywhere that there’s something worthwhile happening. Still, you just lit a fire under me to get to a protest or prisoner letter writing night soon.

In your mind, what are some of the most important issues that vegans—particularly radical vegans with an itch to take action and effect change—should focus on or learn more about in the future?

I want to go back for a second to my experience with open rescue. I often say that I think I ended up working on foie gras in particular because I hadn’t had much experience around animals growing up, but I had fed ducks at ponds. I had seen them around me growing up, watched them, wondered at them. I had seen them, so I could see them. Sometimes, I worry that if I spend too much time online I’ll lose sight of them, and all the animals for whom I’m trying to advocate. I can see it happening sometimes when I get on Facebook or wherever the new big theoretical debate is happening. We can argue tactics in terms of strategic efficiency, or break down activism as a numbers game, but unless we stay connected to other living creatures (including humans), how are we even going to imagine what a better world would look like? It’s critical we support sanctuaries, interact with real-live individual animals of the sort we are talking about saving from violence and exploitation, and get off our computers and into our communities.

Thanks so much for speaking with me about your work!

 Thank you!

In Memory of Coriander

The hardest part of being responsible for another’s life is not death. It is burial. It is digging a hole, laying in a body, and covering it with shovels full of dirt. It is the finality of loss enacted through putting someone underground. Coriander We live with rescued chickens, and our constant affection for them all is inextricably linked to a wariness and worry over their well-being. Coriander came to us in the spring of 2014, with her “sister,” Beatrice, and several other hens. She was an Easter chick who, like many others, quickly wore out her welcome and was abandoned. She was a beautiful being, whose bond with Beatrice was a joy to behold.

We also experienced unfading moments with her, such as when she would plant herself firmly in the middle of a plate of treats in order to block her flockmates with her body. Bonds are always flexible, of course…

The victimization of hens begins before they are born and is carried in their bodies until death. All for the sake of human consumption of eggs, these wonderful beings have been manipulated to lay at such frightening rates that their bodies are virtually ticking time bombs. (The wild ancestors of modern chickens lay 12-15 eggs per year, solely for reproduction. The hens whose eggs we steal lay between 250-300 annually, and typically live for only a few years before they die.)

Whether a hen is in a battery cage, on a “free-range” farm, or in a backyard flock, the biology is the same…the exploitation is unchanged.

We understood this quickly after starting to rescue chickens. The knowledge of impending death does not ameliorate the experience of it, of course–especially when those who die are innocent victims of human greed, no more and no less.

corianderWe brought Coriander inside to care for her and keep her warm when she started showing signs of discomfort. Despite constant care and attention, her body could not handle whatever she was struggling with.

I have been carrying a great deal of rage around since losing Coriander. Since burying Coriander, honestly. It is a non-specific rage–there is no particular target, though there are some very clear causes behind her death–which makes it all the more frustrating.

What I constantly circle around, though, is how hard it is for me to see veganism, animal rights, and the totality of oppression outside of the impacts human society has on individual bodies. In caring for, losing, grieving over a tiny fraction of these bodies, it becomes utterly impossible not to telescope one hen’s short life and devastating death. I cannot but replay her burial and try not to choke on the absolute repugnance I feel towards human privilege, mentalities of domination, and a convenient apathy that keeps our hands bathed in blood.

There is no solace in knowing that Coriander had a better life (and death) than many of her species. Our sanctuary is not a bucolic place of joy where no one suffers or where death, when it happens, is a quiet nodding off to sleep.

Our joys are like clay-footed gods, always.