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.

10669243_574105719362325_7721035559362815584_o

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.

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.

Ferguson

Mike Brown and Ferguson have been on my mind almost constantly for the past couple of days. We can never know the reality of what happened when Wilson engaged Brown and his friend, but it is still impossible to believe how things have played out.

Many people are downplaying Wilson’s actions and talking about Brown’s “personal responsibility” in his own death. His actions–robbery before, possibly lunging at Wilson and going for his gun–are enough to excuse the officer for fatally shooting an 18-year-old black teen..

But I cannot get the stench of a fundamentally biased legal system and police state out of my nostrils. Wilson talked in his testimony of how terrified he was by Brown, indicating that his shots were in self-defense.

Wilson is a police officer and white, so obviously he has been given enough credibility for many, including a prosecutor and a grand jury, to suspend their disbelief so much that he walks away.

Yet Wilson is 6’4″, and on that day he was armed and suited up on the protective gear of his trade. He also chose to shoot after Brown was a more than safe distance away, and apparently standing with his hands up.

The grand jury’s decision basically says that there is insufficient evidence to even explore the possibility of Wilson’s guilt, even on something like manslaughter charges. It thus shows just how much freedom police forces have too carry out capital punishment, and how acceptable it is for police forces to *create* a war zone by casting an entire community of people as the enemy and militarizing in order to control them.

When you believe you are at war and arm yourself for war, there will be war. When you pre-judge individuals to be dangerous criminals, do not be surprised if many lose any trust that you will treat them fairly and respond out of fear and spite. When you discount the lives of people because of the color of their skin and where they live, expect that resistance will grow…even if the legal system and many others will tell you what you have done is perfectly okay. It is never okay, and it will never be forgotten.

“Those things we cannot unsee”: Interview with Jacqueline Morr of Project Intersect

One of my driving interests as an ethical vegan activist over the past few months has been exploring the intersection of ethical veganism and other social justice movements. Having been one to indulge in the myopia of “animal rights” for many years, I have experienced quite the eye-opening (to put it mildly) since pursuing a broader stance of resistance, leading me to take seriously the interconnections of forms of oppression. And to take seriously the necessity and importance of solidarity with other activists across movements.

As I explained in a previous post, I am co-editing a collection of letters from current vegans called Letters to a New Vegan. Through that project, I got connected with Jacqueline Morr, a writer and activist currently living in Los Angeles who is doing a range of academic and activist work on issues surrounding intersectionality, ecofeminism, and animal/total liberation. She recently founded Project Intersect, a zine that I hope will become a nucleus for intersectionality that brings together academics, activists, and a broader population… sliiime

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? In January of 2011 I moved to Chicago. Nick, a longtime friend of mine, had contacted me about an extra room in his new apartment in Roscoe Village for only four hundred dollars per month; I did not hesitate to accept his offer. This was immediately after I finished with student teaching in my hometown (Mansfield, Ohio), which solidified my desire to teach—and to finally move out of state.

Nick left Ohio immediately following high school graduation, having earned a film degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York City in addition to working toward a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts Studies from Columbia College (Chicago) by the time I arrived in that city on the lake. He’d already been vegan for a year, whereas I was one of those self-proclaimed “vegetarians” who still ate canned tuna and never even gave cow’s milk or chicken’s eggs an iota of critical thought. I had also spent six weeks in an eating disorders treatment facility in Philadelphia in February and March of 2010—of my own volition, I still feel the need to mention—and was still recalibrating my relationship to food and hunger and also to the post-traumatic self, the multiply-fractured consciousness left in the wake of recovery.

When Nick found the skim milk, “organic, free range” eggs, and “100% real” butter I’d put in his fridge he indicated his discomfort. If I could name the sense of shame I felt for introducing animal products into his cruelty-free kitchen it might sound something like denial. This prompted serious conversations regarding his veganism, during which he recommended I read Eating Animals. I plucked that book from his shelf and read it in a little more than a day. I cried when I finished. Not only for the enormity of the other animals’ suffering but also for my own willful ignorance and, strangely enough, a recovered memory: an undercover video from a fur farm in China I’d seen years before, thousands of minks ineffectively bludgeoned and stripped of their skin while still alive and thrown into pink and steaming piles of others in various stages of dying and decomposition. Writhing ever so slightly. Lidless eyes filled up with the horror of that violent human indifference.

The next morning I held ceremony at my last non-vegan meal, which consisted of diner buckwheat pancakes and a milkshake.

Your academic experience is in trauma studies. How has that research and scholarship affected your work as an activist? Have you found it useful for yourself (and others) who are striving to end the suffering of others?

Trauma and the traumatic subject fascinate me. More than that—I feel indebted to the language and physiology of trauma. The hard work of my Master’s thesis, which culminated in an extended research paper (a history of eating disorders and female [writerly] resistance), an artist’s statement (on the inherent “madness” and “feminine” aspect of writing), and a conceptual nonfiction novel called sick girl (regarding my personal experience as a clinically “disordered” female), revolutionized my experience and understanding of research and writing and critical thought. Specifically: I had begun to more rigorously connect my desire for and aptitude toward knowledge to my increasing unrest as an advocate of critical pedagogy and feminism, amongst many other things (animal and earth liberation not the least of them). A further result was that I more clearly understood the urgency of action around the issues that were closest to my heart and mind—in addition to discovering their utter interconnectedness. During this time I made explicit the previously implicit connections between my feminism, atheism, ethical veganism, earth activism, anarcho-syndicalism, and so forth. Proclaiming it from the rooftops, as it were…sounding “barbaric” yawps from the Manhattan Bridge or the fountain at the center of Washington Square Park.

While my time in the Trauma Studies Department at NYU contributed positively and so thoroughly to my increasingly intersectional mode of praxis around my ethical and political self, it also clarified the extent to which my idea(l)s are “radical,” even (and oftentimes especially) in the context of disparate academic and activist circles. Where I sought allies I found willful resistance, oftentimes hatred and bigotry: “feminists” rejecting the equation of the exploitation of their reproductive systems to that of other female animals; polyglots and Ph.D. candidates in Literary Criticism arguing against boycotts and direct activism on the basis that “choice cannot truly exist;” LGBTQIA activists employing ableist, sexist, and speciesist language to discuss the history of their own oppression.

I could prattle on forever here, but perhaps I should end by noting that knowing itself can be traumatic. In the case of animal/earth liberationists and radical eco-feminists this strikes me as especially true. Those things we cannot unsee will often wash over us in a wave of cold desperation. Of panic, really, with an intensity that would bowl us over. You know the sort: undercover videos from factory farms implant themselves as memories in the Nightmares Section of our brain’s memory warehouse. This cathexis then connects to an intense urgency, hatred, fear around the gestation crate, the bull hook, the anti-nursing bullring, the captive bolt pistol, the puppy mill, the free-range shithouse.

What are some of your primary issues of focus these days as an activist and advocate? What do you feel ought to be some priorities of the vegan/animal-rights movement(s) in general?

Intersectionality remains a central focus of mine. How to cultivate safe and productive spaces for radical eco-feminists and (gender, ability, intellectual, or otherwise) nonconforming persons in animal liberationist spaces; how to successfully critique welfarist incrementalism and cognitive moral dissonance by modeling engaged, intersectional, abolitionist ethics and politics; and, perhaps most importantly, how to model intersectionality through the language I use and the tactics I employ.

There is, I feel, a startling lack of definitional rigor that encapsulates the contemporary movement for “animal rights” (I would instead use the term liberation or defense, for deploying rights-based language to advance any radical social justice movement mires us in legal jargon and a certain capitalist economy of subjectivity—very limiting and counter-productive. This is aligned with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s shunning of the concept of “tolerance” during the U.S. Civil Rights Movement: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension. It’s the presence of justice.”) Amongst the fractured sects of this movement there are no real working—read: widely-accepted and applied—definitions of violence, personhood, accountability, effective activism, and yes—even veganism. I am in no way advocating that diversity, nuance, multi-vocality, and anarchistic values be swallowed up by some equalizing structure or language. Each of us must retain access to the fullest range of significations without fear of subjugation or silencing. But if we are to organize we must ourselves be organized and intentional. Not slaves to any structure or forms but certainly willing pupils, always read to learn and humbly accepting our ill-fated (human) grandiosity: our gross lack of perspective.

You founded Project Intersect, which is an exciting effort to bring together different activists and scholars in order to create a space and vehicle for dialogue on various (but related) social justice issues. Can you explain, briefly, what intersectionality is, and talk some about why it is such a crucial component of ongoing justice advocacy and how you feel it can change the way we approach the ending of exploitation?

I feel I’ve talked about this a bit earlier in this interview, so I’ll keep it brief here: intersectionality, in my understanding, considers all oppressions as interlocking and mutually-reinforcing. Its foundation is built upon the recognition and acceptance of empathy as the driving force behind all ethical concerns—with some caveats around white (male) privilege, colonial histories, indigenous practices, geography, and so forth.

It’d be a true exploitation of my own privilege to claim that all persons should adhere to intersectional ethics as I must, and do. How do I honor the history of the term itself, which was coined by black radical feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw in “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” without coopting or claiming the experiences of persons whose lives, in so many ways, are distinct from my own? Me, born to middle-class white folks in Ohio exurbia, sent to Catholic school where I accessed a truly college-preparatory education, possessive of my BA and MA, never having wanted for food or shelter or, really, friendship. Of course, as a female-bodied, young, atheist, body-modified, anti-capitalist, earth liberationist, ethical vegan person, I can find multiple intersections between my experience (of oppression) and that of others, especially female-bodied persons. Never claiming their experience as my own; never speaking for or at or artificially “with” them; but in solidarity and humility to the greatest extent possible.

Identifying and illuminating these intersections is key to collaboration and solidarity across multiple movements for social justice and liberation (power in numbers). This means posing to feminist-identified persons that the exploitation of the female body, regardless of species, must be recognized as intolerable. It means speaking with labor organizers and those who campaign for the rights of working-class laborers and immigrant workers about the exploitation of workers (both adults and children) in slaughterhouses, tanneries, the ivory trade, and so on.

What are some of your goals with Project Intersect, in the near future and further down the road?

Well, of course, to distribute the zine more effectively and widely—to put the publication in the hands of as many unawares passers-by as possible! It’d be lovely to have the zine come out bi-annually, but I’m a High School English teacher and find that I don’t even have time to read for myself anymore, let alone write. Bitter about all of that (teaching is wonderful and awful and uplifting and miring all at once.) But! The first issue of the zine is currently available online (e-mail projectintersectzine@gmail.com to request a copy) and in some brick-and-mortar stores: The Pop-Hop bookshop in Highland Park; Skylight Books in Los Feliz; and Stories Books & Café in Echo Park. All in Los Angeles, currently, but my collaborators on the project—Ashley Maier (a good friend and fellow activist) and Nick Morr (my spouse, and another radical liberationist)—are working to improve distribution and promotion of the zine. If anyone would like to help, please, contact us!

As a post-script I should mention that the theme for the next issue, whenever it DOES come out, will be On Violence.

Another of your interests is Ecofeminism. How would you define ecofeminism and its relationship to the larger feminist movement? Why is ecofeminism not always also a vegan movement?

These questions! Eco-feminism has a particularly interesting history, which I won’t recount here; instead I’ll point readers in the direction of Marti Kheel, Lori Gruen, Josephine Donovan, pattrice jones, and so forth. Eco-feminism itself represents that marriage I discussed earlier: a sort of praxis of ethics, experience, and care that fuses (without coopting or whitewashing or undifferentiating) multiple ethical, socio-political, economic, environmental, and ontological concerns. I fear I’m sounding too wordy but I hope my high-flung language is appropriate enough for this context. I care very deeply about the accessibility of these concepts and lifestyles, which must be moldable enough to fit the needs and desires of innumerable persons and communities.

As I’m finding myself a bit overwhelmed by this question, and in the interest of our time, I’ll be as direct as possible: vegan eco-feminism is a “radical” stance in that it establishes and aspires toward rigorous moral baselines. It’s polemical because many feminists identify strongly with one cause or another. Many self-identified feminists I’ve interacted with that are NOT vegan perhaps have never heard of eco-feminism, or feminist arguments for veganism. Or, if they are aware of such arguments, they’re resistant—perhaps they feel they cannot relate, or they have adopted a humanist stance, or they are simply disgusted at the comparison between their reproductive systems and those of female animals of other species. These run the gamut. Melanie Joy’s concept of cognitive moral dissonance resonates well here.

I am in no way asserting that feminists who have not yet made the connection between the oppression of “women” and the multiple other oppressions tended to by eco-feminists and ethical vegan feminists are “bad feminists”—nor are they bad people, necessarily (yet these things always must go forward case-by-case, as we know). As a white, cisgender, educated, able-bodied person I must accept the skewed perceptions that such privilege can and does promote. However, I feel no remorse in proposing that embodying ideals of non-violence, anti-capitalism, solidarity across social justice movements, and the opposition to all forms of bigotry (including speciesism, racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, classism, nationalism, and so forth) should rightfully be at the heart of all efforts to end oppression/the oppressors.

Besides all of these projects and interests, you have also contributed articles to a few publications and do your own writing. Where can we read some of your previous work?

  1. My personal blog, which has been cast aside as the result of my teaching schedule: honeyonthebrain.blogspot.com
  2. I’ve contributed a few pieces for my column “I Forge Things” at Yay! LA Arts & Culture Magazine: http://www.yaylamag.com/category/yay-lit/i-forget-things-literature/.
  3. I have forthcoming pieces in Letters to a New Vegan and an as-yet-unnamed project by professor, author, and activist Laura Wright on the intersections of ethical veganism, femininity, and eating disorders.
  4. Also, I’ve written a conceptual non-fiction book, titled sick girl, that sits gathering encrypted dusk on my hard-drive. It was written for partial fulfillment of my Master’s thesis. I love it and miss it, and intend to get through that final round of edits some day soon, and re-submit to literary agents. Hopefully. Hopefully.

Thanks so much for speaking with me about your work!

My greatest pleasure, of course!

Letter to a New Vegan

It has been a long process, but the Letters to a New Vegan book manuscript has made great progress. After contributing to the collection, I soon joined Melissa Tedrowe as co-editor and had the greater privilege to read so many touching, inspiring letters from vegans around the world. My original contribution will not be included in the book, so I am sharing it here for all of the new vegans, would-be vegans, could-be vegans, and my fellow vegans–if any of them care to read it.

Dear New Vegan,

The most important thing that I have to say is, “Thank you.” Your choice to end your role in the exploitation of non-human animals is brave, an action of insight and strength in the name of compassion. Simply put, it is remarkable.

I went vegan in 1999 as a sophomore in college. As someone who cared deeply for companion and wild animals alike as a child, it somehow took me almost twenty years of being alive to figure out that truly loving them is impossible while you are eating them, wearing them, experimenting on them, or using them for entertainment. I am saddened at the disconnect in my awareness for so long but also glad I recognized that the only way for me to be at peace with myself was to stop my personal exploitation of animals. That decision has directed my entire life since. I hope it does the same for you.

The world that you exist in as a new vegan looks very different from the one I entered and existed in way back in a previous millennium. The sheer quantity of vegan-friendly products, businesses, informational Web sites and books, and opportunities to gather and get active available today is mind-blowing. If I stop to think about how far veganism has come since I became vegan, I feel something akin to whiplash—in a good way!

Honestly, though, vegans are still a minority demographic in the United States and around the world. And depending on where you live, you can easily feel isolated and overwhelmed by the amount and normalcy of suffering that humans perpetrate on non-human animals. Simply open your eyes and look around, and you will find something that makes exploiting animals seem okay and even praiseworthy. It is appallingly obvious, and often cripplingly painful . . . yet we vegans are the minority who see and refuse to continue the system of suffering.

Believe it or not, it took me more than a decade to even begin to get past this hyper-awareness of being a minority and the ensuing sense of overwhelming isolation. Hell, it is far too easy to fall down that dark well of vegan melancholy when the world seems nasty, brutish, and so profoundly antithetical to everything we believe (we know) is true . . .

Nevertheless, your decision to go vegan is truly positive and worth rejoicing. It is an act of defiance in a society that thrives on status quo; it is perhaps the strongest statement against a bloodied, destructive machine that any person can make. Yet it is also the start of a life that brings the deepest joy, fostering the rare instance where one’s ethics come into alignment with one’s lifestyle.

There is so much power in this alignment, coupled with the vision to see through the veil of cultural normalization. So, so much.

My biggest mistake as a vegan was kowtowing to the sickness of society, shutting my mouth with a nod and a smile simply because I was convinced that I had no right to speak up. For so many years, I acted (and thought!) as a minority on the fringe, whose perspective and message would inevitably be ignored or laughed off.

When you believe this and accept the minority mindset, it can become hard to recognize your own strength, your own value, and your own place as a key part of something better. You may let that initial act of empowerment flicker and fade . . .

Never allow yourself to make this mistake.

Never let the dominant narrative convince you that you are a minority and should act accordingly. Never let the snotty comments, sneering questions, juvenile jokes, or inexplicable stubbornness of people around you—even those whom you care about and are sure should know better—bow your back under their terrible weight. Never let your voice be silenced nor your energy wane in the effort to liberate animals from suffering and exploitation.

Veganism is power, and veganism is empowerment. Never doubt this. Never forget this.

Looking back on the path behind me, and seeing you standing at the start of your own, I am excited to see so many others walking along with us. They are all speaking up—some louder than others but all in their own voices. There are many of us, yet we also desperately need your voice and your power . . . for the animals.

“Anorexia and Veganism: My Story” at Vegan Publishers

The relationship between eating disorders and veganism is a causal one for many people, especially (it seems) those in the media. But many of us vegans who have lived with/through eating disorders know that is not a general rule at all. In fact, quite the opposite can be true.

I published an article on the Vegan Publishers blog recently describing my experience with anorexia and how veganism was a positive force to counteract that disorder, not fuel for it.

Read the article here.

Hearing Voices

Author’s note: This essay appeared in the inaugural edition of Project Intersect, a new zine that “encourages radical intersectional analyses of oppression that are sorely needed both in activist circles and in general public discourse.” Learn more at http://cargocollective.com/projectintersect.

 

10379644_528568937249337_4750307422240387880_oi

I walk out of the house and gingerly step down the stairs into the yard where our rescued chickens reside. I step gingerly because I know that the chickens, especially Amandine the hen, have gotten wise to the fact that my entrance into the yard usually means a treat is in store.

The ruse is short lived.

Amandine toddles across the yard on her little legs in a sprint that is graceful in its awkwardness. I sprinkle a mix of grains and seeds onto the ground, and Orion the rooster begins to cluck with short, excited sounds as he picks up and drops a kernel of corn, a sunflower seed, or a wheat berry. The other hens are beckoned by his proclamations telling them that food has been found, and once they arrive he proceeds to select certain morsels for them to eat. Often they just ignore him and eat what they want, but he continues to cluck excitedly at the food—or to make scornful sounds that seem to tell them they ought to be heeding his rooster’s wisdom. He does like to think he is in charge.

10397044_520492771390287_3072107230767474593_o

Our chickens talk almost constantly, conversing in their very own Parliament of Fowls. The boys especially make themselves heard, in particular when food is discovered or (and this is most endearing) when one of the hens is nesting to lay an egg. The hens themselves are quiet when nesting, each laboring for the consummation of the natural task that we humans have hijacked and made unnatural, often ultimately fatal. The roosters, on the other hand, are easily excitable and complain woefully while their hen is laying.

These are some of the many voices I hear every day, and every day I take the time to listen to what they are saying.

Though not human, chickens and all other animals do, in fact, speak. They have voices, though so often we silence them with our din.

ii

Even before my life with chickens began, I found (and took) opportunities to speak on behalf of others—for non-human animals, for the Earth, and for humans, all of whom have been cheated of justice and respect in a system fueled by exploitation. Although halting and easy to miss, my voice has joined in a larger conversation, a rising chant and rallying cry against oppression in all its forms.

Once one gets in the rhythm of speaking, it is dangerously simple to get caught up in the act—in hearing the sound of my own voice and in the pointed rhetoric and shimmering abstractions that language creates—and thus trip over my own tongue as the speaking becomes a matter of process and form, not of having an intentional impact on individuals and ecosystems.

For in the intoxication of speech, in the blissful wandering of the mind around the cavern of itself, I find it terribly easy to lose perspective. To become ungrounded. To ignore the lone, quiet voice of self-reflection that draws me down into the reality of my body, my life, my self, my marriage, my family, and the vast world I inhabit.

This voice asks the most enervating questions, of course:

What historical and cultural forces, what normalized assumptions and values, have allowed me—a white male in the Western developed world of modern America—to have a voice, to speak?

What about those same forces, assumptions, and values have made it nigh impossible for others—for the very ones I am speaking, screaming, fighting for—to speak, to be heard, to have any voice whatsoever?

Finding one’s voice is a process of constant struggle—an internal and external labor of discrimination amongst the legion of voices that are screaming in order to silence. It has taken decades for me to hear even a hint of that voice, all the while recognizing more clearly that it is not one, but multitudes . . . and that there are so many others, not my own, that need to be heard.

Throughout the process of speaking, then, I feel that I must always keep asking myself: What privileges make it possible for me to speak, to write, to be heard? What forces stifle and choke out the other voices so desperately wanting to be heard?

And: What can I do to silence the noise of society so that their wisdom might be heard, be internalized, and be transformed into a catalyst for change?

iii

There is a delicate beauty in the act of listening, of attending to. To cultivate a chosen silence and perceive it as active, engaging, and enlightening is not what we have been taught to do. We have learned that silences are meant to be filled.

The world is a noisy, noisy place. So much of the din around us is of our own making, and it serves as a convenient distraction.

Amongst all of this numbing cacophony, those of us fighting injustice and the oppression of others position ourselves as the voices, the agents, the change-makers for those who have been robbed of the power to speak, to act, to make change.

But we are not their voice.

The oppressed have a voice. Though the efforts to silence them are myriad and mighty, they have a voice, and they have never stopped speaking. We just have found it easier to stop listening.

We may help them to be heard. We may break down barriers so they may be attended to, and we may give them venues in which to speak.

What we cannot and must not do is minimize what they have to say because their language is not ours. We cannot relegate them to silence because their speech is unfamiliar, challenging, and not for our benefit.

We must open up the gaps and the silences so that they might be heard. We must hear their speech for what it is: the indelible expression of who and what they are. And once we hear, we must then allow ourselves to listen . . .

Perhaps the time has come for us to offer our silence to those who have not been heard, to allow them to speak without judgment or prejudice. For unless we perceive them for who they are, not what we want them to be, we will remain forever separate, mistakenly situating ourselves above and in the role of saviors rather than joining together with them in solidarity.

Let us then speak with them, not for them, and offer them what gaps and silences we can so that they, too, might be heard.

Jason crows

Papañca

Image credit: tom burke (http://flickr.com/photos/37718675756@N01).

I am not the voices in my head.

The Buddhists have a Pali term, papañca, for the mind’s tendency to wander and create perceptions of division, of conflict, of identities and essences, that all arise out of the central sense of self. Right discernment for one when recognizing papañca and attachment to some object is to reflect: “This is not mine. This is not me. This is not myself.”

But the voices sound so much like myself, seem so much like my self, that subsuming them within my identity and perceiving the world through their interpretive discourse appear possible only on the other bank of the river.

This is not me.

Whose voices are these that tell me what I ought to be? It seems odd to think that it is my self that is crippling itself with self-doubt and a sense of unending selfishness for not being what I am being shown and told that I am supposed to be.

But then who speaks? Who or what stirs up the rattling claptrap in my head? Which whisper is mine, is me, is myself?

The mind is a spider obsessively weaving its webs. Its art, its process, of spinning is papañca.

It has no say in what gets caught and what passes through. Some things move on, while some become memories and building blocks of who I am, dangling in the void inside the cavern of my skull.

Like stars.

This is not myself.