To Err Is Human(e)

i.

While there are some excellent exceptions to the rule of factory farming … (selling ethically raised meats, eggs, and dairy), being a veg*n in Virginia is an important way to avoid benefiting from the suffering of animals–directly or indirectly.*1

This is a terrible thing to say about animal agriculture. Not only dangerous and harmful, but just blatantly wrong as well.

Now, you are probably anticipating, perhaps almost reflexively at this point, one of my cutting assaults on the myriad problems contained, both explicitly and implicitly, in this quotation–a mildly abusive disabusing of any notion that there can be any such thing as “ethically raised” animal products, based on biology, history, and my experiences rescuing animals from any number of farming situations.

And you are right. But there’s a catch:

I wrote this.

This utterly shameful utterance is mine, and not from distant times before I was vegan and while I still held fanciful notions that animals and animal products were ours to eat. No, I was vegan when I wrote this in 2010…

One of the problems with writing is that at some future point you may find yourself performing a retrospective, either by will or by force. Sometimes that can be illuminating, sometimes it can be a foray into the warmth and fuzziness of nostalgia, and sometimes that can instigate a moment of growth. Sometimes it can also be fucking painful, filled with embarrassment and dismay that you could ever have believed–let alone stated–such nonsense.

I had occasion recently to look back at some old blog posts and articles of mine dealing with animal agriculture, and I found myself thoroughly appalled at sentiments like these, which betrayed not only a lack of consistency with my own then-professed vegan ethics, and not merely an easy acceptance of animal exploitation and consumption as societal givens, but also a pervasively ridiculous lack of understanding of the very animals I was attempting, so I thought, to defend.

All of this, while still forcing me to shake my head in disbelief (I’m doing so as I type, mind you), is in a certain degree explicable. Don’t get me wrong: my viscera scream out at the inexplicable attempt by anyone to talk about “ethical” animal products in earnest, and it makes this entire trip down memory lane rather agonizing. Still, it is by no means an aberration of how we, generally, both vegans and non-vegans, deal with basically every instance in which the interests of non-humans and the whimsies of humans collide: we get what we want and find ways to make ourselves feel better about hurting others in the process.

I don’t mean that as a cop out. I don’t want to walk down this lane, but I believe it is both instructive and illustrative of just how easy it is to be vegan without also committing to an anti-speciesist fight for liberation and the end of oppression, and thus not really getting at the root causes of why we oppress other animals.

In other words, there is no lack of examples of vegans hedging their bets when discussing veganism and animal rights, wanting to “stop cruelty to animals” and to “choose compassion” whilst simultaneously being terrified of offending, angering, or otherwise disturbing their interlocutors–or, even worse, not actually believing that animals deserve autonomy, not nicer management. This is one reason why “factory farming” is such a useful bogey in the realm of debate: vegans can avoid stepping over the “extremist” line by allowing all sorts of exploitation, as long as the meat (or milk or eggs or whatever) isn’t from a “factory farm”; and, without having to stop enjoying meat (or milk or eggs and so on), a non-vegan can list the many reasons why and methods by which they DO NOT support “factory farming.” Isn’t that great? We all get to enjoy the low-hanging fruit!

ii.

Life with (rescued) chickens…

Because I’m feeling masochistic (when aren’t I?), let’s consider another example of my mistaken prior arguments:

The lack of widespread, reliable protection for farmed animals makes it an ethical imperative that we become conscientious consumers of animal products. Unless we buy direct from the farmer, how can we be sure we are not paying for factory-farmed animals. Even if we don’t opt for the most humane step of going vegan, and so refusing to turn animals into mere commodities, we can become vegetarian. Or if we do use animal products, we can shop compassionately, researching the producers of them.*2

Sigh.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but the central issue is a mindset that feeds the Humane Myth–and shows how vegans perpetuate the Humane Myth constantly. There’s almost a grudgingly fleeting effort to broach the possibility of veganism as the only acceptable response to animal exploitation, and it gets lost in the distracting gesticulations that seek to steer people away from “factory farming” rather than from what matters: the systemic oppression of non-human beings.

This example is so useful, and damning, because of how visibly ethics–which demand considerations of justice and autonomy of other beings, regardless of species–are buried under the miasma of “humane” exploitation. Indeed, “humane” is a particularly revealing device in this case because it is so clear that it’s all about us, about humans, and not about other animals. The fact that “humane” elicits a spontaneous overflow of feeling that something is approximating humanness is exactly why it’s so problematic: calling exploitation “humane” is only possible when it’s really about us, and what we want, and what serves our ends. In fact, “human” plus “e” does not equal “happy animals.”

Thus, it is irrelevant how much we know about a farmer or a farm, just as it is irrelevant where, how, and by what methods or with what intentions a non-human animal was born, raised, used, and killed. These are all trappings of human solipsism, a speciesist selfishness that allows us to believe that treating another being, who isn’t like us, sort of like us, means we can pretend they aren’t being meaningfully harmed by our actions. Because of our privilege as humans who benefit from a system of domination, we are able to pick and choose what aspects of their experience we want to trouble ourselves with…a mental prestidigitation that is absolutely necessary for us to perform in order to even conceptualize the word “humane” in regards to animal agriculture.

And that’s exactly what I was doing, which I see so clearly now provided more than enough material for anyone to believe they can find a way to eat animals and still be a swell human(e).

Fuck.

iii.

Godric was found with a necrotic food, probably from a tether wrapped around his leg, which required amputation.

In the ensuing eight years since I wrote those terrible things, a lot has happened. Marriage, animal rescues, a move, and being battered about by the tide of public awareness. Also many new family members have come, and gone–so many individuals who have made me understand what it means to care enough for someone else that your own self-interest seems less of a scream and more of a whisper.

And loss. So much loss.

I feel very little for the person I was back then, with that mindset: no anger, no sympathy, nothing really beyond shame at what I said. If I’m to be honest, I think it best he is a thing of the past, and I don’t have to deal with him much anymore. Perhaps you’re thinking that I should extend some compassion to the him who was me. Perhaps you’re right. I won’t, however, though you are welcome to.

Reading my own words, I feel as if I’ve betrayed every animal who is living and has lived with us here, as family…the time and context of that other person-I-was don’t matter. All that matters is how seriously wrong I was.

So what I needed then is not compassion but a good talking to, a firm nudge towards the fact that all forms of animal exploitation are inherently unethical and irrevocably harmful because they happen most significantly in the biology of these beings, not just on the farm or in the slaughterhouse. Even more, I needed to meet those individuals who actually endure the violence of domestication and exploitation, to experience for myself who they are and what their lives are like and how trivial the supposed distinctions are between one method of animal farming and another, between one species and another. Even more still, I needed to feel how priceless they are in order to understand the absurd offensiveness of how little we value them. For therein lies the strongest rebuttal to all my bullshit about ethically raised this and conscientiously consumed that. All my human(e) hot air is revealed to be nonsense in the face of their fates as beings bred to be consumed by us.

My wife and I have rescued hundreds of animals in the ensuing years, and every one of them has meant something deeply to us. Every time we lose someone, I get another peek behind the curtain of the Humane Myth, and I see yet another way human actions have harmed these beings under human oppression. I see all the things we could not save them from: reproductive diseases, compromised immune systems and pathogens waiting to pounce, hormonal imbalances, muscular and skeletal abnormalities, injuries, negligence, cruelty, apathy…all for the convenience and pleasure of humans. I also see all the ways in which “sanctuary” is as much about giving dignity to them in death as it is about giving them an opportunity to experience life, and letting loss inform how you live with the ones you still have: the loss of loved ones brings with it the cruelest and most unforgiving insights into what they suffer at human hands.

What I wish for my then-self is not a vague and coddling compassion, no, but that I had been able to know before opening my mouth the individuals whom I have known since then. How they live both under and despite human domination is more than sufficient an argument for us to stop harming them, and really all we need to do to see this is to shift our focus from ourselves and onto them.

Frost (at top) was dumped in a state park and was sleeping on a parking sign in the cold, rainy winter weather when I caught him.

Quotation Sources:
*1: https://insteading.com/blog/virginia-license-plates-vegetarian-vegan/ (2010)

*2: http://hopeful-ink.blogspot.com/2010/12/cruelty-of-factory-farming-by-justin.html (2010)

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From Commodity to Absurdity: Ridgeland Winter Pioneer Day and (Non) Flying Chickens

This past Saturday, 17 February 2018, the 35th annual Ridgeland Winter Pioneer Day event took place in Ridgeland, Wisconsin. You probably haven’t heard of it, but let me save you the trouble and get to the point: along with a “greased pig” catching event, this celebration of “pioneer” spirit features a “chicken toss.”

The “toss” is not as banal as it might sound, though. Chickens, who have spent hours in cages with no protection from freezing weather, are carried up to the roof of a one-story building and thrown out to the crowd. Tossing isn’t enough entertainment, of course, so part of the fun is chasing the terrified chickens en masse and grabbing any you can. You catch ’em, you keep ’em.

I’m hoping at this point that you’ll grasp the severity of the problems wrapped up in the basic premise and plan of this “family” event. But let me clarify a few things that might help: 1) most chickens are not capable of flying very well or far, so being hurled from a high spot (onto concrete, no less) is not going to end well for them; and 2) chickens are prey animals, so being handled by strangers and landing in a scrambling crowd of large (mostly drunk, entirely clumsy) mammals is surely even more terrifying than hurling through the air as you struggle to “fly.”

My friend and colleague Quincy Markowitz took part in an effort not only to stop the event and protest as it went on, but also to save as many chickens as possible. They were able to wrest four sick, maimed, and stressed chickens from the crowd… Her firsthand account after the event and accompanying photographs are heart crushing:

Today, I am going to tell you all some horrible stories and share some awful images. I am so sorry to have to even make this post, as I know it will bring tears and frustration.

All four of our rescued chickens are doing well and recovering from their abuse. We will have more follow up on them this week.

For now, we need to talk about the victims we couldn’t save. I will tell some stories of pictures I did not get, and some that have pictures to accompany them.

We arrived yesterday at Ridgeland Pioneer Days at 11am. Almost immediately, I heard a child telling his dad about the chicken he will catch, and how he will feed him grass until he dies and they eat him.

We stood in the crowd as we waited for the event to begin. Most people were drinking beer, there were many children. Right as the throwing was about to happen, people started chanting “feed us!”

It was a whirlwind. The crowd was ferocious, battling for chickens, grabbing them by their necks and wings. When one would fly into the bar wall across the street out of panic, the crowd laughed.

I saw a rooster on an awning, terrified, trying to stay away from people. Children threw snowballs at him until he fell off.

I saw two children and an adult stuff their chicken into a plastic bag. These chickens are said to be pets and well taken care of, but we watched them die there.

I saw two women force-feed a chicken beer for a photo op before posing for the picture kissing her on the beak.

A friend told me of a rooster caught with a broken foot. I found the man who caught him and asked for him to be surrendered to us. The man told me that he will be kept if he can mate with his hens, and then he will be eaten. They would not give him to me.

My friend, Steph, saw a rooster with severely swollen feet and wattles consistent with fresh frost bite. These chickens suffered frostbite within the 24 hours before the event.

We have so much more evidence and so many more stories to be revealed, so please keep following us and PLEASE, start planning to come to Wisconsin next year and show up wth us to stop this event.

The icing on the cake was, as I was leaving with my sweet Dolly in my arms, crying and frustrated, a group of men catcalled me. They asked if I was single and what I was up to later. I should not be surprised at any level of degradation these monsters are capable of, but somehow I was taken aback, not expecting myself to be victim to their abuse.

This is a so called “family friendly” event. I feel sick for the children being raised in this environment.

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I’m grateful to Quincy and others for braving that horrible event and saving those they could.

Is any of this worse than what happens to chickens and other farmed animals in animal agriculture? No, it isn’t. Is it more wrong and violent and exploitative than so many other forms of so-called “entertainment” that use the bodies of animals for human titillation? No, it isn’t.

Still, I am utterly dumbstruck at this ridiculousness not just because it shows some of the worst side of humanity. Ridgeland Winter Pioneer Day’s “chicken toss” event also reveals just how little value chickens have as commodities for humans; as commodities, there really isn’t anything humans can’t do to them.

If you look closely, what you see is that people who have already neglected their chickens (see Goby’s untreated sinus infection and Shrimp’s untreated frostbite?) dumped unwanted (not primarily useful/profitable) animals knowing full well what would happen to them…and not caring.

Not even not caring: DEFENDING what happens to them. As amusing as the flying, terrified chickens were to some people, even more hilarious was the effort to speak out against this absurd cruelty. Indeed, chicken farmers specifically wanted everyone to know how well the chickens are treated, and since they’re just food anyway what does it matter? That’s what chickens are FOR, right?

Human beings rationalize, justify, and excuse many of the things we do to animals via arguments about necessity–biological, financial, cultural, ecological. There’s no justification that holds water, in my mind, but ideally it’s a conversation that can happen with a reliance upon a wide set of facts and experiences.

It is also important to realize that an extension of our commodification of living beings under our domination for food (and so on) is a sense of free reign and impunity. We lock chickens and other “food” animals into the ontological position of being consumables, and doing so guarantees that many humans will feel entitled to use them in any way whatsoever, for whatever reason.

Shit like this “chicken toss” is scarily irrefutable, though, because its absurdity lies in the fact that it has nothing to do with our needs or the animals’ lives and everything to do with human callousness, with our willingness to abuse our power over others in ways that have no actual “value” or purpose other than diverting us from our boredom. This event is the equivalent of a child burning ants with a magnifying glass and sunlight.

There were children here, yes, but this time the metaphorical magnifying glass was being held by adults who bear the full moral responsibility for their actions. There is no situation in which this event cannot be considered cruelty to animals, something that would get you arrested had you been chucking chihuahuas onto the concrete below…

It’s worth mentioning that there were law enforcement officers at the event on Saturday.

They were there to monitor the protestors.

Open Letter to an Open Wound

There have been times in my life when I spoke truth to power loudly and publicly. I felt my anger like a star, burning and bright. The embers are still glowing, but I have been tired. I am so much water.

Addressing the wounds of the world takes a kind of strength I started to lose as the wounds of my family and my own tender being burst open. There is no clear delineation between these pains as they’re felt – the pain of living with genocidal systems operating all around us, the pain of loss, of intergenerational trauma, illness, abuse… they bleed into each other. So many wounds eventually look the same regardless of how they were made or the intentions of those who made them.

Someone very close to me has been abusive for years. He is a writer too, and he sometimes sends long letters full of manipulative, threatening language. I have written countless drafts back to him, detailing everything he’s done to me and everything I’ve witnessed him do to people I love, foolishly hoping he will see the truth in my words and desire to make amends, my dream of restorative justice.

I learned the hard way that any communication with him backfires. He will select one word and twist it to suit his toxic narratives. My communication is an invitation for him to attack with more intensity, and he’s made it clear to me, at times even saying so explicitly, that he does not care to hear what I have to say. He is not interested in understanding or accepting responsibility. He has exhausted my anger.

I’ve found it difficult to write as a result. Not only have I felt on a deeply personal level a horribly frustrating futility in my words, but I am terrified of replicating the language of abuse. I share genes with this person. Our demons are close. The slightest hint of his voice in my own silences me quick. I have felt this in other ways. The poisons of our world infect and confuse. The fear of irrevocably fucking up, the fear of turning into the very thing I am fighting… it can be debilitating.

Even when I manage to move through those fears and channel again the righteous rager, I eventually come to a stillness that asks, then what? And the answer from the wise, always, that we need to heal and build.

I suppose in some ways that’s what I’ve been trying to do, starting small, starting with myself – build from the ground up, build something from a place of understanding and care. It’s not as glorious as the fire-breathing dragon I can be, so adored. Healing is not glamorous. It’s painstakingly picking through a trash heap. It’s all the things that no one is going to applaud me for doing, that no one may see at all. It’s having to just keep moving forward, keep waking up, keep doing what I have to do to stay alive despite the parts of me that feel defeated and despaired. It’s finding the good not just in spectacle, but in intimacy.

My abuser isolates himself, and I know it’s easier for him to maintain his illusion of power that way. At times when I have tried to reach him, I get a glimpse of someone vulnerable, and then that person is locked away, and the tyrant appears. This happens too when we create nations and borders and hierarchies, constructed inequalities to prevent the intimacy that would reveal our shared vulnerability: what it is to be alive on Earth, to feel fear and pain. Even the work of healing is painful. It can feel like there is no escape, no relief, and I too have chased those twin pillars to destructive ends, seeking power and simply finding more pain.

I cannot escape my fear and pain, but I can manage them. Just as I must continually combat manifestations of oppression in myself, the work of healing my own trauma and illness is an ongoing process. I can’t say I acknowledge my white privilege and understand the system of racism and then be done with it. I must be attentive, always listening, checking in, reflecting.

I have been writing this for months now. I keep coming back and making adjustments, but I know I am in many ways just avoiding the moment of reaching out. I am so practiced now in seeing my words atrophy, in reaching out a hand to have it slapped away. It’s heartbreaking as someone who cares so much about connecting and believes so deeply in the power of language to help us do that. I don’t want to let an abusive person take that away from me. I cannot write a letter to him, but I can write one to myself and to you. And my hope in this for understanding, connection, and healing is not so foolish.

 

“Persistent Ovulator”

Many people who don’t understand why eggs can never be an ethical foodstuff for humans are surprised to learn that selective breeding for egg laying has made modern hens prone to cancer and other reproductive diseases. As such, medical researchers are using hens as models for studies into ovarian cancer in humans.:

The domestic laying chicken has been intensely selected to be a persistent ovulator. That is, the tendency for broodiness has been nearly eliminated and, given the appropriate lighting and nutrition, many strains of laying hens produce an egg on almost every day. […] Commercial laying hens also spontaneously develop ovarian cancer at a high rate, and susceptibility to this disease has been associated with ovulatory events in women.

Think about all that for a second.

Hens are forced by genetic manipulation to lay eggs so frequently that they are highly predisposed to reproductive cancers. The thing they were bred to do for humans will likely kill them.

Of course, hens die from lots of other things, too, as their reproductive system breaks down; this is why most hens do not live beyond 4-5 years…which is also the age they mostly stop laying. Those chickenly problems aren’t quite as useful for humans, apparently…

Equally awful, as the Poultry Science abstract cited above also makes clear, humans have bred OUT the mothering instinct in most hens because it interfered with egg laying.

Put another way, hens don’t even get the chance to experience motherhood…because nothing in their hijacked biology compels them to.

Every time someone eats an egg, these are the things that are being supported and normalized.

That’s part of why eggs don’t “just happen,” and why laying hens can never be truly “happy” when you steal the object of their suffering.

When HuffPo Misrepresented Chickens, #VegansWithChickens Responded…

As is the case with all animals humans share space with, chickens can occasionally carry zoonotic pathogens that may transfer to humans and other animals. Sadly, many health organizations are zeroing in on this as a public health threat, and in the process they and the media are creating a skewed picture of chickens as dirty, diseased enemies of public welfare. And apparently cuddling is the problem!

So when HuffPost Lifestyle shared an ominously headlined article about chickens making people ill, Vegans with Chickens showed up to defiantly support chicken companionship and cuddles in the context of rescue and non-exploitation, pointing out along the way the hypocrisy of targeting chickens as too nasty to cuddle but perfectly okay to eat.

It was brilliant…

This is only the beginning…

A Handy Guide for Vegan Advocates Discussing Chickens and Eggs

By Justin Van Kleeck

One of the most common discussions I get drawn into these days is on the ethics of keeping chickens for eggs in supposedly “humane” situations, like a suburban backyard. The details vary from time to time but always deal with humans wanting to eat hens’ eggs and feeling justification in doing so because the hens are not in a cage, a shed, or a slaughterhouse.

But there is much more to those “happy eggs” than is immediately apparent, and so I am hoping this post can serve as a handy guide for vegan advocates who have gotten beyond the “factory farming” horizon and want to talk about all forms of animal agriculture…and maybe for some non-vegans who think backyard eggs are better (they are not).

Just because a hen is not in a cage, shed, or slaughterhouse does not mean she is free from exploitation. One of the hardest parts of talking to people about the problems with “humane eggs” is that culturally, we tend to focus on treatment (cages are bad, sheds full of sick hens are bad, slaughterhouses are bad, beating an animal is bad), so under the prevailing standards a little flock of hens in someone’s yard looks nice and bucolic. But that focus on treatment is really dealing with aesthetics, not ethics.

The crux of the problem with the whole idea that chickens’ eggs can ever be ethically neutral as a foodstuff for humans is: domestication. Modern domesticated hens lay about twenty times more eggs each year than their wild ancestors, the Red Jungle Fowl of southeast Asia, who lay 10-15 purely for reproduction. Read that again: TWENTY TIMES. That averages out at around 250-300 eggs per hen every year from about six months until their laying declines and peters out around four-five years old.


Selective breeding and genetic manipulation through thousands of years of domestication have thus completely hijacked the bodies of chickens: the ramping up of sex hormones and the physical process of laying takes a devastating toll, causing all sorts of problems (egg yolk peritonitis, impacted egg material, cancer, osteoporosis, prolapses…). These will usually kill a hen before she stops laying on her own; however, if kept healthy they can live into their teens.

The roosters suffer too–not only by being killed as chicks or once they crow because nobody wants male laying-breed chickens. They also have jacked up sex hormones that take a toll on their bodies as well. Simply put, no matter where they came from, virtually every single hen had a brother who was killed for no good reason.

It is also worth noting that whenever a chicken-keeper says their hens are all perfectly healthy, keep in mind that laying and other health problems happen in all breeds, not just the two most frequently used on industrial farms (white Leghorns and reddish brown Sex Links). Most people aren’t aware of the subtle signs that a chicken is ill (as prey species they are amazingly stoic) and get no vet care at all. The hens our sanctuary takes in from backyard situations are almost always sick with something, and/or have been the sole survivors of predator attacks due to negligence.

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Althea was the sole survivor after a predator broke into her coop one night and killed her sisters, who like her were hatched as a school project and were living at the school. She was blinded during the attack and nearly died from improper care.

Along with all these physical consequences for chickens is the issue of bodily autonomy. When a hen lays an egg, why on Earth do we feel we have a right to something her body has created? Instead of stealing what is theirs, the best thing to do would be feed eggs back to the hens–eggs are usually their favorite treats, and doing so returns depleted vital nutrients in the eggs to the bodies they were pulled from.

Trudy was so excited about an egg treat she leapt up to eat it out of my hand!

For some reason humans think you can exploit and manipulate the bodies and very genes of non-humans over millennia, and then when those exploited bodies function as humans want them to, we can claim that what they do is “natural” and continue using them (dithering about welfare and treatment is often as far as we’re willing to go…).

That is fucked up, a tactic right out of the Humane Myth playbook…and that is why eggs are inherently unethical for human consumption, regardless of where they come from.

Eating hens’ eggs or allowing other humans to do so is perpetuating that system of exploitation and normalizing violence, including violence that is embodied as a result of domestication.

We adore our family of rescued chickens, and it is agonizing to get them to the safety of a vegan sanctuary and then see all the health problems they have due to their biology and breeding. Even with access to great veterinary care, far too often our hands are tied by their genes. We have lost so many beloved family members because of this, and I will never pretend that humans eating eggs and exploiting chickens to do so is nice, happy, or humane. No other vegans should either.

Further Reading

“Backyard Eggs”

“Backyard Eggs: Expanding Our Notion of Harm”

“What’s Wrong with Backyard Eggs?”

“Eggs: What Are You Really Eating?”

“No Such Thing as a Harmless Egg”

“Eggs. Period.”

“‘Persistent Ovulator'” 

“Eggs: The Leading Cause Of Cancer Nobody Talks About”

“Lessons in Applied Speciesism”

Of Bullies and Butchers: Ethical Meat, Vegan Bullies, and the Humane Myth

How do you respond with words to someone who murders your loved ones, glorifies that killing, is praised as a hero, and then casts you as a bully when you push back against such a heinous act?

This is the question I have wrestled with for months: How does trying to stop the murder of innocents make you the bully, and the butcher the saint?

In November of 2016, Wild Abundance, a homesteading & permaculture “school” in Asheville, North Carolina held a class to teach people how to “humanely” kill and butcher a sheep. A counter-protest, organized by the Let Live Coalition and in which I participated, got derailed by outside threats that were made by anonymous, unaffiliated individuals (against organizers’ requests to be peaceful and respectful when asking Wild Abundance to cancel the class). In the end two young sheeps were killed and processed…in order to “honor” them.

”The animal will be tethered, and when all the students are here, we are going to pray. Then we are going to wait for the moment that feels right and take the animal’s life.” – Natalie Bogwalker, Wild Abundance

Natalie of Wild Abundance “honoring” a sheep.

In the ensuing mayhem after the start of the peaceful campaign, heated online rhetoric resulted in the would-be butchers pivoting on the notion of their vulnerability in order to divert attention from the act(s) of needless murder and blame “vegans” (en masse?) for the true violence. Natalie Bogwalker, owner of Wild Abundance, was portrayed (in pictures and words) as an innocent new mother being bombarded by militant vegans, and Meredith Leigh, the original instructor (butcher) for the class, as a stalwart hero of “ethical” food, food security, and sustainability.

The threats against them are unfortunate and had no place in the peaceful protest/campaign. But as a vegan, I (and many others) found this erasure/obfuscation of the true victims—the non-human animals being killed and butchered—to be both familiar and offensive. As a vegan who rescues, lives with, and cares for farmed animals, I found such intentional human narcissism to be beyond disturbing and disgusting.

Let’s be clear about this: What we humans have done over thousands of years is create a situation, a system, in which domesticated animals are victims by design, from birth. In particular, “humane,” small-scale farmers and so-called “ethical butchers” (see photo below) play off of the public’s admittedly wishy-washy concerns about animal welfare by portraying their actions—birthing and raising animals for the sole purposes of using, killing, and eating their bodies—as the best possible life for these beings. “ethical-butcher” From Meredith Leigh’s Instagram account, at the scene of a planned “ethical slaughter”; she later denied using the “ethical butcher” epithet for herself, possibly after realizing it is even more fucking ridiculous than “ethical meat”: see http://www.mereleighfood.com/blog/2016/11/14/vegan-bullying-and-the-new-world, paragraph 5.

“ETHICAL BUTCHERS” & THE ULTIMATE BETRAYAL

Thus, If you’re a “humane” farmer, what you essentially do is create a relationship with individual animals, feed them, care for them, build trust with them…and then that “one bad day” happens, and you throw them to the ground, restrain them, and kill them. That bond is shattered, and these intelligent, feeling beings experience much more than just physical pain in this ultimate betrayal of their trust.

To many, this sort of scenario is not only acceptable but also ideal—it is the best possible life for beings who are dead, dismembered, and digested: That lamb is little more than a conglomeration of choice cuts and leftover bits, no matter how deeply a butcher professes to “love” him or her.

We always must remember that this fact means that humans always have the power, along with free reign to enact violence (of all kinds) on innocent bodies. The indelible reality of this power dynamic, which results in the killing of non-consenting individuals, also belies any notion of “ethical meat,” even if Meredith Leigh can write an entire book on the subject (which, it should be said, largely ignores actual discussions of ethics).

Beyond the act itself of killing, when humans pretend to be victims while slitting an innocent’s throat, we perform an act of erasure that perpetuates violence and murder by transferring human sympathies to another human, not the dying non-human animal. Period.

Yet this sort of claim to victimhood is not only possible but also preferable to our culture at large. Thus Meredith Leigh, self-proclaimed “ethical butcher,” can talk up her “vulnerability” as a butcher of bodies and launch a campaign (and a hashtag…) against “vegan bullying” in the face of strong resistance to her planned act of murder during that class.

“COMPONENTS”image credit: http://3x39fmt0aja34zifjfnu4695x.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/mere-w-newborn-lamb-1-e1464302032302.jpgWe must be honest in seeing what Leigh sees when she looks at an individual non-human. Her language is deeply disturbing in how it positions living beings as already-dead bodies, “components,” not-yet-divided morsels of flesh, calling to her and her tools to be separated and consumed. To her, the murder of the individual is merely a momentary passage to what they always were…

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This way of seeing and representing individuals makes Leigh not an ethical butcher, but in reality a death fetishist. What drives someone who is supposedly in harmony with nature and its constituent life forms to so visibly relish the death and dismemberment of those under her dominion?

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A lamb is not a pair of legs in a field, and yet…

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A pig is not a blank slate upon which humans can perform meaningless acts of universal communication, and yet…

“pig-writing”

Her exertions to disembowel someone who did not want to die do not make her a hero, and they certainly do not make her a victim, and yet…

These are all examples of performance art meant to gratify an ego and please an audience, a narcissistic act of consumption in itself, as needless and disturbing and offensive as the idea of an animal being murdered by a “loving” hand, which she (and I should say all “humane” farmers and butchers) so clearly wishes to cultivate.

Yet for Leigh, the human-non-human relationship is always about domination—albeit a form of domination cloaked in the vacuous rhetoric of love, compassion, connection, oneness, and “cycles of life”—i.e., euphemisms for senseless acts of subjugation and violence.

EAT YOUR PRIVILEGE

What Leigh and all other humane farmers and all their consumers do not, cannot, understand is that to truly honor a living being means respecting and nurturing them while they, like all of us, struggle to stay alive. It means becoming a family with them, not an oppressor towering over them with a boot on their throat. And then when they die, despite your best efforts to keep them well for their own sakes, it means dignifying their deaths and memorializing them in your heart, forever, as a memento to a loss that cannot be measured.

When you know the value of their lives as individuals, the mentality that sees them as “components” becomes pathological beyond words, and the betrayal lurking within the shadow of the Humane Myth becomes an unbearable offense to your very family.

Perhaps if Leigh spent as much time as I do caring for the victims of animal farmers, and simultaneously entertained the notion that they actually desire and deserve to live, she might rethink her convictions about “ethical” meat. Otherwise, as it stands she seems to be profiting in many ways as a butcher-for-hire who does not have to confront the devastating realities of love, loss, grief, and systemic violence—the ubiquitous bullying that is part of humanity’s oppressive traditions. I am sure that privilege makes her lamb chops taste much less like a dead toddler.

It must be a wonderful thing, this privilege to confront the moment of death in a position of absolute personal safety and dominance—not to be forced to experience the catastrophe of a loved one’s death, of bearing the weight of their dead body, of digging their grave and piling dirt upon them, and then of putting your heavy, heavy foot in front of the other as if your life has not just been utterly upended, forever.

I will never know what that privilege Leigh so clearly enjoys is like…but I would still rather have our sort of genuineness than ever to sink into the cozy consumption and weakly defended self-gratification of Leigh’s “ethical meat.”