Full Text of Justin’s Interview with Yoga International

I was recently interviewed by Kathryn Ashworth, a Producer at Yoga International, for a story she was doing on veganism and animal sanctuaries. Because of space limitations, only a portion of the interview made it into the final article, so Kathryn and I agreed to post the full text here for interested readers… ~ Justin

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1. What is The Microsanctuary Movement? How is a sanctuary a state of mind? 

The Microsanctuary Movement is an effort we started based on our work with Triangle Chance for All to help empower others to rescue farmed animals and self-identify as being part of a sanctuary, both through information and resources and through support networks. We are working on our website right now, but in the meantime we have been trying to share helpful tidbits through The Microsanctuary Movement’s Facebook page and our Facebook group, Vegans with Chickens. Through these and future means, we hope that the movement will inspire many vegans to rescue farmed animals, whether that be a rooster and some hens, or a few goats, or whatever species they can accommodate. To us, this is truly revolutionary because relying on large sanctuaries exclusively means limited ability to rescue farmed animals. Large sanctuaries can usually take in a few hundred animals at most, and so much of their income goes to administrative and other non-care costs. Comparatively, a few thousand vegans each rescuing a handful of animals would open up so much more space and (this is important) resources for care.

To answer the question about sanctuary being a state of mind, we have to first recognize that “sanctuary” is about how one cares for rescued animals and sees them as beings worthy of the utmost respect. Thus a microsanctuary centers on a space that is home to rescued animals and emphasizes their health and happiness. So someone with a rescued house rooster is just as much a sanctuary (by virtue of being a microsanctuary) as a million-dollar non-profit with hundreds of acres and hundreds of animals. I am frustrated by how self-limiting we all tend to be when it comes to our views of sanctuaries. I so often hear people say that they want to start their own sanctuary one day if they win the lottery, but without any clear idea of what “sanctuary” really means to them and how to get there. I was there once, and the notion of a typical sanctuary was so daunting that I did not even know where to start to make it happen. By throwing out the ideal, I was able to really think about what sanctuary means for the residents and the caregivers. It is a very powerful relationship and way of living, as well as a perspective on the world and our role as caregivers.

This sense of dedication to the service of rescued farmed animals, as a way to end (and help ameliorate in some way) their exploitation, is what lies at the heart of sanctuary—and on an individual level truly defines a microsanctuary. This is all about how we approach rescuing animals and accommodating them within our lives where we are now, not where we might be at some undetermined future time.

2. Can you give us an example of one animal you rescued and sheltered recently? How did you find them? What’s their story?

There are so, so many beautiful but poignant stories here at the TCA Microsanctuary, because each resident’s story reflects upon both their unique personality but also the exploitation by humans that they were rescued from. One of the dearest to our hearts is that of Bibi, a tiny little hen who came to us after her three flock-mates were killed by a raccoon who broke into the “chicken tractor” they all lived in in someone’s backyard. Bibi barely survived and was maimed in the attack: her top beak was partially bitten off, a hole was punched into her bottom beak, and she also lost part of a wattle. When she arrived, she was clearly suffering from PTSD; she spent several weeks just sitting in a bathroom like a lump. She started to come out of her shell when we put a mirror in with her, and then she really regained some of her spark when we brought in one of our other hens, Hypatia, to be a companion for her. Now she is a real fireball, with plenty of spunk and attitude. She has had to have several surgeries on her beak since then, and will likely always have trouble eating and require special attention, but she really rolls with the punches.

Bibi’s story highlights so many of the problems with backyard chicken-keeping (for example, she was part of a hatching project in which eight of the twelve chicks who were roosters and so were sent back to the farmer and most likely killed). We feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity to give her a better life.

Another story is that of Plutarch the piglet. Plutarch fell off a transport truck in transit and was taken to a rural animal shelter while still a tiny little guy. When one of our board members, Linda James, discovered him at the shelter, we started scrambling to find placement for him (because we knew we could not accommodate an 800-pound farm pig at our microsanctuary). Richard Hoyle at The Pig Preserve, an amazing sanctuary in Tennessee, stepped up and agreed to take Plutarch. TCA board members Linda and Alan Nelson fostered Plutarch for nearly a month, allowing him to grow bigger and stronger in a loving space, and then several board members transported Plutarch to The Pig Preserve in late December—where he is now the most rambunctious, joyful pig you will ever meet.

His story is sad for so many reasons—not just recognizing that he would have been killed in a matter of months for his flesh, but also realizing that he was stolen from his mother at such a young age and never got to know that nurturing parental love as he grew. Animal agriculture is a story of broken families as well as torture and death, and Plutarch’s experience makes that abundantly clear.

3. What do you mean when you say, “veganism is the only satisfactory response to the suffering of non-human animals”? What about humanely raised animals?

There is no “humane” way to eat or use a living being or the things that come from her body. There is a persistent effort in our society to assuage our discomfort with harming other animals by coming up with slightly less bad ways to do the things that make us uneasy. There is no longer any doubt that, as a species, humans can thrive on a plant-based diet and have no need to exploit other beings for our benefit. That recognition of our ability to live without directly harming other animals has to frame this entire discussion about whether or not it is possible to exploit those beings “nicely.”

It takes little time researching the practices of every agricultural industry to see that animals are commodities, not individuals. You cannot justify killing a living being who is not in pain many, many years before he or she would naturally die. But that very thing happens with cows, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks, rabbits…any animal used for food, really. There is a vast difference between when an animal is at “market weight” (i.e., when they are old/large enough to slaughter for prime profits) and when an animal is at the end of their natural lifespan. Chickens can live up to 13 or 14 years, for example, yet “broiler” chickens raised for meat are slaughtered after six weeks. Even dairy cows, who are supposedly given a better life because they are not raised for meat, still end up as hamburger after their milk production declines after a few years. It makes no sense for a farmer or corporation to keep feeding, vetting, and otherwise dealing with an animal who is not at peak production. If you want proof of this, research what happens to “spent” laying hens, whether they are in battery cages or so-called “free-range” farms, once their egg production declines after a couple of years—if they even make it that far.

As for chickens naturally producing eggs, which is a common misconception, it is helpful to understand the biology of a modern domesticated hen. The wild ancestors of domesticated chickens, which are wild jungle fowl from South Asia, lay at most ten to fifteen eggs per year strictly for reproduction. In contrast, domesticated hens have been selectively bred and genetically altered by humans to produce 250-300 eggs per year. This genetic manipulation has turned hens into victims of their own biology, leaving them trapped in their  own bodies, and it is directly responsible for the fact that most hens die before age five because of reproductive system complications (especially cancer). So to say a hen “naturally” produces the eggs humans eat is to utterly twist what “natural” actually means. There is nothing natural about a domesticated hens’ eggs, just as there is nothing ethical about eating them. Whenever a human eats a hens’ egg, whether it came from a battery cage or a backyard flock, they are perpetuating this inescapable suffering that hens endure.

Veganism is the only answer to this situation because there is no good way, no ethically defensible method or process, to exploit other beings for our benefit. Period. Once you accept the fact that animals exist for their own reasons, and have as much right to live as individuals with their own autonomy, then the question of how they are exploited is a moot one. One cannot exploit another being and pretend that one is being nice about it. One cannot justify using other animals when the only reason for doing so is personal tastes and habits and a refusal to look past the traditions and corporatized narratives telling us we need animal products to be healthy. To do otherwise is to turn individuals into objects, and that can never be justified.

4. What about people who say that they can’t afford to not eat meat due to health issues? 

In almost all cases, health arguments for eating meat or other arguments are based on ignorance of actual human nutrition, an attempt to excuse away a desire to eat animal products, or a combination of similar factors. I recognize that some humans may have such severe health issues that eating a plant-based diet is extremely difficult, just as I recognize that many humans live in food deserts and have a huge challenge just finding adequate food to feed themselves and their families. But the majority of us have the capabilities, both in our physical needs and our resources, to stop eating animal products. This is even true for athletes who put their bodies in much more rigorous and demanding physical conditions. There are vegan ultra-marathoners, bodybuilders, mixed martial arts fighters, NFL football players… It is abundantly clear, looking at living breathing humans, that being athletic does not prohibit being vegan.

5. How do animals, particularly the ones we classify (culturally) as less important (pigs, chickens, cows… etc.) give your life meaning? Why do you connect with them as individuals when so many see them as food?

Being vegan for us is centered on the idea that other animals deserve as much respect and consideration as our fellow humans.  Living with and rescuing animals (in particular farmed animals), however, reflects the fruition of our ethical principles put into practice. This is especially true for farmed animals because all of us, even vegans, have accepted the idea that they are somehow different than dogs, cats, and the other species we classify as “companions.” They live on farms somewhere out in the country and are owned by farmers … unless they are lucky and go to a big farm sanctuary that is also out in the country and run by a different sort of farmers.

It would be hard for us to pinpoint a reason why we connect with farmed animals as individuals, except to say that it is an entirely impossible task for us to do otherwise. Humans have desensitized themselves to violence and exploitation, in particular by compartmentalizing them so as to ignore or forget them. We, and other ethical vegans, are not able to do that any longer. Taking that to the next level, we are committed to helping as many animals as we can get the respect that they deserve by getting them out of the exploitative systems they are trapped in. Getting involved with farmed animal rescue and care has led to a profound shift in how we see ourselves as vegans. It is no longer so much a negative orientation, in the sense that we are trying to not cause harm or not be part of exploitation. It feels so much more positive to have a direct role in and responsibility for the care of the very individuals for whom we went vegan. All of us at Triangle Chance for All are and always have been vegan for the animals; saving and sustaining the lives of as many of them as we can has given our veganism so much more depth, meaning, and relevance.

6. What do you think it will take to finally convince people that this is a social crisis? Is the solution simply a matter of leading by example?

We have to do the work and reach the humans we can but not wait on others to make change happen. This means focusing on helping the victims of human greed as much as possible while also advocating on their behalf. It often seems that no one ever listens, and that we are losing the battle to make a society that is kind to all beings. But whether or not we achieve our goals, we have to do the work and strive as hard as we can.  Otherwise we can be sure we will lose.

I do not think leading by example is enough, though it is important. We have to feel within ourselves the urgency of non-human animal liberation because it is far too easy to deprioritize or forget their suffering. Empathy is important, but it is not the same as experiencing what they do, and I think this is a large part of why so little has actually changed with how humans treat other animals. So I think “what it will take” is some sort of crisis that makes consuming animals immediately harmful or impossible. Even with as many vegan products and resources as we have available now, vegans are still a tiny minority (about 2.5% or so) of the American population, and this is true globally as well. It is not a matter of practicalities.

I try hard not to be a pessimist with this whole issue. Humans have a hard time acknowledging crises until they significantly affect the humans (especially the humans with the most power and privilege) themselves. That is why it is so crucial for those of us who do get it to both advocate to other humans and act to make change happen for the individuals who suffer—whether that means helping others go vegan or rescuing animals from exploitation. Advocacy and leading by example are not enough; activism, whatever that means for you (be it protests, disruptions, leafleting, rescuing animals…), has to be a key part of how we live in the world as vegans.

7. Do you practice yoga? If so, how does your practice influence your activism?

That depends on how you define yoga, I suppose. If you mean mat work, Rosemary and I, as well as board member Linda Nelson, practiced yoga for years before starting TCA. We all saw yoga as a practice while also taking seriously the principles behind it. For example, ahimsa is a principle of not harming that (we feel) provides an imperative for being vegan. This is why Jivamukti Yoga, for example, includes veganism as a component of the practice. It is a shame that more modern yoga traditions and practitioners do not recognize this.

You could also see what we do as a form of karma yoga, of course. As someone who studied and practiced Buddhist meditation for many years, as well as yoga, I feel very strongly that our “practice” is most important when it is actualized through our ways of living in the world. What we do in private on our mats or our cushions should be a foundation for how we live in and influence the world around us.  We should also do more to acknowledge how intentional acts of service, compassion, and justice are essential components of a practice of ahimsa.

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Creating Revolution: Interview with Aph Ko

The genesis of this interview is a long and winding one, starting a few years back when a friend told me and my wife about this amazing vegan grad student named Syl. Fast forward a few years to where Syl is a good friend, and her sister, Aph Ko, publishes an article addressing reasons why animal rights is a feminist issue…

Little wormholes like these open up all the time in cyberspace, and where they lead can sometimes be both informative and important for oneself. As both a writer and participant in the world of online advocacy, I am both fascinated and appalled by so much of what goes on there. After reading Aph’s article and binge-watching season 1 of her web series Black Feminist Blogger, I went down the wormhole. 

Aph’s is a crisply articulate critical voice, and her perspective on interconnected oppressions and the activist movements that counter them is wonderful in its wit and precision. I tossed a few dense questions at her to learn more about her work and some of her conclusions from her time in the blogosphere…

Aph Ko PictureCan 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 became a vegetarian when I was about 16 or 17 in high school after my friends showed me some PETA brochures (I wasn’t aware of their “sexy” campaigns at this point!). I worked at a vegan restaurant in Irvine, CA called “Veggie Grill” (it was the first one ever; now it’s a successful chain). At that point, though, I didn’t have an ideological connection to veganism. I didn’t take it seriously. My sister Syl introduced me to the concept of veganism as a political concept when I was about 20. She sent me the book Sistah Vegan, and I immediately saw how racism, sexism, and speciesism connected and I was hooked. (I am still obsessed with Dr. A. Breeze Harper!)

For a while, it was difficult for me to keep the vegan diet consistent, despite the fact that I understood the political ideology because I had been addicted to animal-bodies-as-consumptive-units for so long. I realized that un-learning scripts about food consumption was super difficult, but necessary and possible.

Your series Black Feminist Blogger is a hilarious and yet disturbing account of the realities faced by a black feminist writer in the blogosphere. I am curious to hear your feelings about the current state of feminist discussion in cyberspace and society at large. For example, I was struck by your fictional editor, Marie, in the series—especially her comment, “I took out inflammatory words like racism and white supremacy. … in this magazine we’re trying to talk about women’s issues.” Do you feel like actual progress (in terms of changing cultural mores and connecting movements) is being made on key feminist issues thanks to the web? What benefits and costs do you think come through engaging in online advocacy?

This is an awesome question. Yes- I do think a type of progress is being made online. It allows certain minoritized people access to platforms that they wouldn’t necessarily have access to if it weren’t for the internet. Most importantly, it allows us to connect with each other. Also, I have learned so much about social justice movements online. So in one instance, I would state that yes, progress is definitely being made because the internet offers a unique space for organizing and movement building.

Beyond that, though, I am skeptical of the idea that the internet alone will advance political issues. Part of my show Black Feminist Blogger exposes how blogging is a business based upon some of my own real experiences blogging online full time. Because people are making money off of their websites (which isn’t always a bad thing—especially if you’re doing good, important work), there’s a pressure to publish quickly and to regurgitate the same popular topics over and over (in the same ways) to achieve those clicks. Perhaps this is why you might see 300,000 articles about Iggy Azalea talking about cellulite on her ass…and whether or not her acceptance of her cellulite is a feminist stance…like what the fuck.

In fact, you will see the business side of blogging through freelance writing work. I’ve worked for feminist sites that hire a large amount of writers that they pay per article. In fact, some of these successful websites will send out emails to their freelance writers every week with “popular topic ideas” that they can choose from. Sometimes, you have to choose a topic from their list because they know they will achieve the most page clicks (which translates to money). Therefore, the focus is on PRODUCING articles, not necessarily writing awesome content that’s needed. I’ve even worked for spaces that tried to get writers from overseas because they could pay them less per article.

I think that’s the scariest part about the online space. The corporatization of online feminism is silencing radical, independent feminist voices that can’t compete with corporations, or websites that are making thousands of dollars. (Some feminist writers even have agents!) Because of this, certain feminist websites have the monopoly on feminist thought, and that annoys me. You can also expect that the same feminist spaces are going to be writing about the exact same popular cultural moments over and over again, not because they’re adding anything new to the conversation, but because they HAVE to write about it to stay relevant, and I don’t know how that translates to anything other than journalism.

Honestly, I think the internet is helping people become stronger business owners and journalists, but not necessarily better activists. The act of promoting oneself and one’s writing becomes conflated with activism.

As a black feminist, what are some of the main issues that you want to see getting more attention than they currently are? What has your experience been when trying to raise these issues in light of the narratives constructed by “mainstream” media?

Overall, I think we’re experiencing a giant theoretical rut today. Most of the conversations that are occurring in the mainstream take critical subjects and distill them. We refuse to talk about women and sexuality in a dynamic way because MALE GAZE/RAPE CULTURE. Light-skinned and dark-skinned black women can’t talk together today because COLORISM. Every minute there’s a new article about a celebrity “celebrating” their curves, or embracing their make-up free face, and at this point, the basic-ness of these events are profound. I feel fatigued with how uncritical and boring our discussions are today. The discussions in the mainstream are very safe and sanitized. We need a new framework for talking about these issues because currently they’re unproductive and produce sloppy, uninspiring, predictable conversations that don’t go anywhere.

For one, I wish that we could stop focusing so much on celebrities. I think our culture has a sick fixation with what celebrities are doing. I think feminism has been so unpalatable and unfavorable for so long that we are now trying to re-brand it in a way where it’s not threatening, and in doing that, I think we’re distilling it and unfairly slapping the feminist label onto any celebrity who denounces Photoshopping.

I think the huge focus on celebrity culture in feminism has something to do with the fact that a lot of feminism online is turning into sell-out journalism. Because of this journalistic turn in feminism, more and more feminists are “reporting” cultural events and giving their analyses.

As a black feminist, I wish we could start talking more about animal rights and veganism in our feminist circles without viewing animal rights as a “separate” field. Our social justice movements are so compartmentalized despite the fact that “intersectionality” is the trendiest word of our generation. I also wish that feminists focused more on indie digital media, indie music, art, etc. I love the grassroots feeling of the indie space and I think there’s power in the grungy, indie circuit. The act of creating is revolutionary, so I think we need to start talking some more about that. Overall, I think we need some new theory to account for the different political, racial, sexual landscape today.

Your recent article for Everyday Feminism discussed some of the reasons why animal rights is a feminist issue. Why do you think this argument still needs to be made in feminist circles (i.e., what do you think lies behind the disconnect between human feminists and other animals)?

I think many social justice movements today thrive on empty buzzwords and mantras, rather than actual praxis. So, it’s trendier to learn the language of the movement so that you “look” like you get it, rather than actually getting it. If you actually understood the movements you’ve been participating in, your behavior would start changing, not just the phrases written on your shirt.

You have some people screaming #blacklivesmatter for Mike Brown, but they can’t name one black author, black philosopher, black indie media product, black artist, etc. It’s empty.

Ironically, you have feminists screaming “the personal is political” but they don’t think about the food they consume which is wrapped up in giant systems of oppression.

Intersectionality falls flat today in many circles because it’s attached to empty praxis.

I think some feminists’ inability to fight for animal rights demonstrates how ingrained problematic hierarchies are, even in oppressed subjects’ psyches. Some oppressed folks have a hard time accepting that they might be oppressive agents to others. Unfortunately, when some groups are oppressed, they are incapable of understanding that they’re not the only bodies being oppressed, and any attention that goes to another group is immediately met with anger and frustration. This reaction is proof for my assertion that people don’t really GET intersectionality…or maybe haven’t really read about it.

I also think that because of the online space where everyone can have their own blog, and write their own critiques, everyone thinks they’re an expert at feminism. People want to critique, but they aren’t necessarily as inclined to learn (I was quite a stubborn asshole as well when I started blogging). As I said in my Daily Beast interview, I think people are experts at critiquing and pointing out problems in everything, but they don’t want to be reflexive because it means they might actually have to change, and since our culture thrives on comfort, “change” merely becomes a tie-dye colored word on a John Lennon poster that might be hanging from your wall, not a politic that you live your life by.

Along with the WHY, can you talk about the HOW? How does feminism start to take the oppression of other animals more seriously and create a comprehensive, intersectional strategy for fighting oppression?

Ironically we have the theory there that supports animal rights and veganism; we just need to practice it. Every feminist knows “intersectionality,” but they have to apply it to bodies that don’t necessarily look like their own.

I think it’s about just doing it. Oftentimes, in social justice circles, we fetishize activism, or assume it’s about changing someone else. However, it can start with you. Feminists (especially in the mainstream) definitely understand the body as a political entity, so there’s no excuse. I mean—we exist in a culture where everyone and their sister is talking about “body-positivity,” so it seems like some feminists are willing to talk about their bodies as long as it’s attached to a superficial beauty rhetoric; however, when it’s attached to changing their diets to accommodate animal bodies, suddenly they start to have a problem with that. (They will often shout scripts like “well….some people can’t go vegan because they live in poverty or because of cultural reasons,” and I’m like “okay…some people don’t have the option to go vegan…but don’t you?” Silence and crickets.)

(I just want to make a note that I’m aware that not every community has the option to go vegan. However, I’m predominantly talking to the thousands of people who *do* have the option to go vegan, but don’t .)

I mean, after my article about animal rights in Everyday Feminism, I can’t tell you how many feminists were pissed off with me and sent me really mean messages telling me that I was a joke or that I wasn’t a real feminist because animal lives weren’t as important as women’s lives. Some people were so hostile that I started re-reading my article to see if I said anything that extreme. I had no idea animal rights (within a feminist context) was this controversial. The automatic assumption that animal bodies are just “less than” reifies the exact same hierarchical systems that feminists are trying to fight to get their own rights. It’s the epitome of irony and while frustrating, it’s great fodder for another comedy web-series, LOL. This negative response reveals how misguided some attempts are in feminism to reach “liberation.”

You have to actually ACT to be an activist. It’s a struggle. So, giving up your meat and cheese might seem like the end of the world, but that feeling of personal struggle is necessary for the movement. People know animals are being tortured and slaughtered, but they can’t give up meat because it “tastes good.” How committed are you to social justice if your taste buds rank higher than another being’s existence

Activism isn’t necessarily supposed to be comfortable. We need empathy in our social justice movements. To have the expectation that dominant groups should understand your plight, while you have another being’s flesh stuck in your teeth, just feels awkward, LOL.

To focus on veganism/animal rights more specifically, what in your opinion are some of the biggest failings of the movement(s) in reaching non-white, non-affluent individuals? What concrete steps need to be taken to make veganism more inclusive—both in terms of rhetoric but also in terms of outreach and support?

I think there’s a foundational issue with inclusivity rhetoric. In fact, many folks argue (myself included) that diversity and inclusivity rhetoric serves to reify and empower white supremacy.

Your question presupposes that there aren’t people of color in the movement already, so the question discursively excludes us (brown people) which must be noted. What “animal rights movement” are you talking about?  Your question naturalizes whiteness as the norm which I think is problematic, LOL. I’m going to assume that you’re referring to animal rights organizations that are predominantly made up of white people considering “whiteness” is commonly implied, but rarely called out. By using the white-centered, ambiguous term “animal rights movement,” you’re ironically erasing brown people and our work, but I will however answer the question I think you’re asking.

I don’t view the white animal rights movement as “failing” to include brown folks because that would presuppose that they set out to accommodate brown people in the first place, which they haven’t. I don’t view my exclusion as accidental.

We can look to the ways that black feminists recently called out “white feminism” as a thing, to solve some of these issues in “mainstream” animal rights spaces because I think this is more of a rhetorical issue.

For too long, “mainstream feminism” seemed to only focus on white women, and completely ignored the ways in which women of color were impacted by patriarchy differently. Mainstream feminism also seemed to ignore the activist efforts of non-white women. Therefore, when black feminist Mikki Kendall came out with hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen, she brilliantly pointed to the ways that these “mainstream” movements only recognized white activism, while excluding and ignoring the struggles and labor of people of color. In other words, “mainstream” seemed to have a color attached to it: white.

Dr. Brittney Cooper wrote a BRILLIANT article titled, “Feminism’s Ugly Internal Clash: Why Its Future Isn’t Up to White Women,” to clearly draw the lines between white and black feminism, and to make a point that black women don’t need white feminism in order to validate their activism. Before this, “white” feminism was felt, but was never actually called out. This was a significant rhetorical move. Dr. Cooper noted how white feminism (or mainstream feminism) centered on equality, and black feminism centered on justice. These are two different projects and they need two different names or else all of the work black feminists are doing will unfairly be erased or eclipsed by white women’s organizing efforts.

I think we need a similar rhetorical strategy for the current “mainstream” animal rights movement that excludes non-white activists. Part of the activism is labeling the current “mainstream” animal rights movement a white movement so that the rest of us can move on and continue doing our own activism without fighting for a seat at the white table. Fighting for animal rights and then fighting for representation in a white space are two very different projects.

If minoritized people aren’t joining your movements, it could be that we already have our own movement that you just don’t know about, OR, your space is exclusionary. The activism shouldn’t center on how to reach out to non-white people… you should use that energy to look to the foundation of your movement or project because your answers might be there. We pathologize minoritized people by questioning their motives for not joining movements and organizations that purposefully exclude them.  Instead of spotlighting the activist efforts of non-white people (because there’s a lot of us), the attention gets turned to why these folks aren’t joining white organizations.

If the white folks actually understood the issues they were so passionately fighting for, they would already be inclusive, so their exclusion is quite intentional.

Just because the white animal rights movement doesn’t recognize us, doesn’t mean that we don’t exist. We’ve been organizing for a while.

There are many black/brown vegans who are doing awesome projects and we need to allow these organic movements to thrive as they are. Perhaps white folks can help by providing resources and financial assistance to some minoritized vegan activist movements that don’t get as much exposure as white organizations, rather than trying to get these minoritized folks to join their organizations. That feels like a completely different, appropriative project.

Just remember that there are vegans of color who are doing work, and that’s the animal rights movement that I know and focus on.

Wow…so many important points there. Thanks for making the best of my poorly worded question! 🙂 So, what projects will you be working on in the near future, and what issues do you see being (continuing or immediate) priorities for you?

I’m currently working on season 2 of Black Feminist Blogger, and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to film another episode of my web-series “Tales from the Kraka Tower.” For me, right now, self-care is the most important thing. In order to continue my activism, I need to re-charge, which is what I’m doing now. J

I want to keep championing for independent smart media, and I’m trying to finish an EP with my band!

Thanks so much for speaking with me!

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…

lauren_TEDx_4 (3)
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!

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!

Interview with Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

It is always exciting to meet another vegan metalhead (if you are a vegan metalhead like me at least). I cannot quite remember how I met Jayaprakash Satyamurthy in the realm of Facebook-Earth, but it was a quick experience of exponentially increasing excitement. Jayaprakash, who lives in Bangalore, India, is more than just a vegan metalhead; he is also the bassist for the band Djinn And Miskatonic, as well as a published writer of weird fiction in the vein of H. P. Lovecraft. Oh, and on top of all that, he runs an animal rescue organization and shelter, which means he lives with a big furry family.

I was fascinated to learn more about Jayaprakash’s experiences and his work…

JayaprakashPlease share your story of going vegan. When did you decide to stop consuming and using animal products? What motivated this change in your lifestyle?

I was raised vegetarian. In my college years I started to eat meat. I can say that it was the usual process of dietary drift a lot of young Indians go through once they are exposed to a more diverse peer group in college; I can say it was just the convenience of picking up a sheek kebab or shavarma roll after a night at the pub with my friends. I can make any number of excuses, but the real reason is that my vegetarianism was simply a matter of habit, and even though I considered myself an animal lover, it was more of a sentimental thing, not something I’d thought through rationally as an adult. More to the point, I think it just showed how weak-willed and ready to be tossed about on the waves of peer pressure I was. I didn’t care to “fit in” in my choices of music and books or clothing; yet it seemed okay to go with the flow when it came to more crucial choices like diet and even clothing—I wore my share of clunky leather boots and jackets during this time.

I will say that I was never completely comfortable eating meat. I always felt heavy and sluggish after eating anything more than a kebab roll, I was repulsed by bone and gristle in what I was eating, and I frequently fought down a sense of nausea while eating meat, thinking of the living thing it had once been. In fact, meat formed a very minor part of my diet, which was mainly ovo-lacto vegetarian.

Questions of the use of animals for food and clothing and so forth surfaced in my mind from time to time, but I never considered them in sharp detail. I was opposed to animal testing, and I continued to enjoy the company of cats and dogs, but since moving out of my family home and living in a series of hostels and shared flats, I hadn’t had a pet and I think losing that daily connection with the animal world helped blunt my instincts.

I reverted to vegetarianism after living with the woman who would become my wife. She was born into a meat-eating community but gave up meat as a little girl, not wanting to harm animals. It felt to me like a natural decision, a relief, a homecoming. You might ask if I would have continued to eat meat if I had met a different woman, and all I can say is that sometimes the right people come into one’s life and leave it at that. A lot of people remain meat eaters even if their spouses are not—this was the case with my father and mother—and I could have done so too. I also stopped wearing leather shoes and retired my old leather jacket.

As I grew more involved in animal welfare, moving from activism to regular rescue and rehabilitation of stray dogs and cats, I started to learn more about the issues involved in how we exploit animals for our comfort, convenience, and luxury. I read a lot about ethical reasons for a life free of animal products, worked my way through Massimo Pigliucci’s examination of these issues on his Rationally Speaking blog, and reconnected with the deep emotional connection I had felt with all animals as a child. Finally, a video by PETA on dairy farming in India pushed me over the edge. I decided to stop consuming dairy as well, and called my wife up and told her I had taken the decision to become a vegan.

I know that the exploitation, torture, and murder of animals continues around me daily. I know that my ceasing to use the products of this cruelty probably doesn’t reduce any of it. But I take comfort in knowing I no longer have blood on my hands, in knowing that there is no ethical contradiction in my animal welfare activities (well hardly any) and in, perhaps, serving as an inspiration to others. I feel like I have finally become someone the five-year-old me would have been proud of.

You are involved in the heavy metal scene in a number of ways, from playing music to being an active commentator online. How long have you been into heavy music? How long have you been playing, and what is your band, Djinn & Miskatonic, up to these days? Any other projects in the works as well?

I discovered heavy metal music through MTV in the early 90s. I was already a music lover with diverse tastes for an early teen: classic rock, some blues, some alt, a lot of western and Indian classical. At first, I had little patience for the “long-haired guitar bands” on MTV. But then songs by Metallica and Guns n’ Roses started clicking. My home life was not altogether happy, and I identified with the rage in many of these songs. When I discovered Iron Maiden, I responded to their complex melodies and epic storytelling. Judas Priest filled me with intimations of power and glorious darkness. Slayer’s music showed me how music could be sinister and attractive at the same time.

I wanted to start playing this music at once, picking up an acoustic guitar and playing at writing songs and being in a band with friends. It took me years to get any good, and to decide to play the bass guitar. I played with a few different bands in my college years, covering everything from alt rock to thrash and heavy metal, and trying out a fair number of original songs along the way.

I’ve been playing the bass guitar since I was 17. I had a long hiatus from music but started again in 2010. In 2011 I formed what would become my current band, Djinn And Miskatonic. Our first album, Forever In The Realm, was a more traditional doom affair, with lots of Saint Vitus, Reverend Bizarre, and Electric Wizard influences. We’ve nearly finished recording our second album, and this time around the musical range varies from Sleep/Vitus doom to Cirith Ungol-influenced epic doom metal with a couple of other odd things along the way.

I’d love to do a couple of other musical projects—something more raw and thrashy as well maybe a space rock project some day. Right now, I don’t have enough time or collaborators for anything other than Djinn, and anyway we’ve got an anything-goes approach to songwriting which allows us to try out a lot of different musical ideas.

In an earlier interview, I discussed possible connections between an interest in black metal and veganism with Samuel Hartman of Anagnorisis. What is your take on being a vegan metalhead? Do you feel like your brand of veganism is in any way informed by your taste in music, or vice versa?

I think maybe extreme metalheads, if they have not been co-opted by the right-wing politics and misogyny that inhere in those circles, are people who are used to standing out from the mainstream and making their own decisions. I think there is a strain of nature-worship and pantheism in black metal in particular which is conducive to moving towards veganism.

But I don’t, ultimately, see a close link between the music and the ethics of veganism. I am happy to see that people like Mille Petrozza are vegan, but I also know many more metal musicians thrive on steaks and leather. There’s no consistent ethical stance in what is after all a diverse community of people and ideologies.

On the other hand, I have found in practice a lot of animal lovers in the metal community here. So that’s a good sign. I try to be visible in my veganism so that I can act as an advocate to people in the music community who may feel predisposed to at least hearing me out because they respect me as a musician. But ultimately, you become vegan because you do not wish to participate in the murder, rape, and torture of sentient beings any longer. People from any musical background can and have made that connection and that change in their lives, and I respect them for it and count them as my peers.

You are also an active writer of weird tales, and a fellow fan of H. P. Lovecraft (yes!). How does your penchant for weird fiction tie into your other activities—music, veganism, etc.?

Although I’ve tended to approach horror themes a little more crudely in my lyrics, my interest in weird fiction does have a lot to do with the urge to write dark, eerie music and with an overall preoccupation with dark, fantastic themes and imagery. So far, I haven’t written songs that are directly influenced by my ethical choices. I don’t know if there is any tie-in between weird fiction and veganism, but I have heard it suggested, I don’t know how seriously, that animals might have a very different kind of consciousness from ours, as different as those of the Lovecraftian gods are from our own—and we’ll never stand a chance of learning more about how that consciousness works if we keep eating them.

Along with all of this creative work, you also are involved in animal rescue in Bangalore. Can you discuss your rescue and what got you into rescue work?

I got into rescue work because I wanted to do something more practical and impactful than the activism too many animal lovers content themselves with. There is a place for raising awareness and running campaigns, but my own temperament draws me to working at the rescue side of things instead. I feel I am doing something of intrinsic and real value when I help nurse an animal back to health, find a new home for a former stray, or at least provide warmth, food, shelter, and love for a dying animal. There are many roles you can play in animal welfare: awareness, fundraising, admin, and so forth. I found that this was the role I could be most useful in, and even so I don’t think I’m very good at it yet.

My wife and I started to be the go-to people for anyone who found a lost or abandoned cat or kitten. There aren’t as many animal lovers in Bangalore working with cats as dogs, and our home population of rescued cats keeps growing. We also take in dogs, and starting a shelter seemed like a natural progression. We’ve had a setback recently, losing the land on which our first shelter was run, but we are looking at new sites and hope to include a full-fledged cattery at our next shelter. Our shelter is called Simba’s Run, after an abused Dalmatian who was one of the first rescues undertaken by our animal welfare organization, Animal Aid Alliance.

How does being vegan influence your efforts to rescue and care for animals in need?

The shelter I help to run is no-kill as far as possible. I have taken a decision to put down animals who were terminally ill and in pain, like a cat with a shattered spinal column or a puppy with an advanced, uncurable case of distemper. This decision is never taken lightly, and I try to spend time with the animal, comforting it, before the euthanisation. The idea of euthanasia for “unadoptable” animals or simply to keep shelter populations down is repulsive to me.

I’ve also had to accept that it is very hard to give cats and dogs a meatless diet. I don’t feel good enabling the slaughter of one set of animals to help my efforts to save another set, and this makes me feel like a hypocrite. Vegan diets for dogs and especially cats are a deeply controversial topic and hard to get clear facts and advice about. I have experimented with a vegan cat food with taurine added, but my cats have not responded to it especially enthusiastically. Still, I hope to learn more and to switch to vegan food for my shelter if it seems like the animals will not miss out on nutrients and flavor.

Sometimes I wonder what we’re all doing, setting up dependent relationships with animals and playing god. Some human beings respect that social contract with our companion animals; others don’t, and then people like us try to step in and rectify the balance. Maybe that’s what it’s all about.

What sort of advocacy work are you involved in, and can you talk some about the vegan scene in the Bangalore area? What are some successes you have seen there, and what are some key issues you think need to be addressed?

I’m not involved in any vegan advocacy in an organized way. I make no secret of my veganism, and as an “out” vegan I hope to influence others. I think I have helped at least two people go vegan. There are a couple of vegan restaurants in Bangalore and a few vegan meet-up groups. I still haven’t interacted much with them beyond the occasional online chat. I really should, I’m sure, but in a culture and society that’s becoming deeply committed to meat eating, I think it is more useful to be out there, being visibly vegan, sane, and happy.

In my country, meat eating is a complex affair. It’s a way to rebel against Brahminical strictures; it’s forbidden flesh; it’s cool and sophisticated. Suddenly everyone is a foodie, sampling steaks and whatnot at hipster eating places. I think people need to learn to see their dietary choices as not just about their lifestyle and self-image but in the context of the ethics of what we eat.

At the same time, the average Indian vegetarian is deeply dependent on dairy products and the idea of doing without cow’s milk is unthinkable to many. I’d like to see that lactose addiction being combated with better information and better awareness of what it means to keep a mother in captivity, impregnating her time and again just to steal her milk from her babies.

Our government has in the past run highly successful campaigns to popularize milk and eggs as healthy and essential to our diet; I don’t think veganism should be government mandated, but I’d like them, and the media as well, to at least table it as a reasonable choice and not something extreme or just a fad.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me!

Thanks for the chance to do this interview. I’d like to invite anyone in Bangalore who is seriously considering veganism to reach out to me to learn more. Also, I now kmow one other vegan in the Indian metal community: Aditya Mehta of Solar Deity. I’d like for our tribe to increase, so if you’re an Indian metalhead who loves animals, and would like to learn more about veganism, once again, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you, and I can be reached at jayaprakash@gmail.com.

“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!

Michigan Microsanctuary: Interview with Rachel Waite of Vegan Michigan

It has been an eventful few weeks for us with our farmed animal rescue, Triangle Chance for All. We just took in four more chickens, including two young roosters who will be the start of our first rooster flock. We have also been receiving much more attention for our “microsanctuary” concept, including an article at Our Hen House and an exciting grant award that has helped us to launch The Microsanctuary Movement.

We feel that microsanctuaries can be a powerful source of inspiration and support for people who are thinking about rescuing farmed animals, or who are already doing it. Rachel Waite is one such person. She shared her excitement with us after finding a movement, an identity even, that made it clear she was part of something bigger … that she was not alone in turning her home-space into a sanctuary for ducks, chickens, and goats.

Rachel also founded Vegan Michigan as a way to educate her community about veganism and provide support networks for those making the transition, as well as those who already had. I was very interested to hear more about her experience with these two–in my mind closely interconnected–activities on behalf of the animals…

microsanctuary10Please share your story of going vegan. When did you make the transition, and what motivated you to stop using animals for your own benefit?

I grew up in a typical meat-eating family, but after an influential summer camp trip at age 10, I met a camp counselor who was vegetarian and told me about factory farming. When I returned from camp, I announced to my family that I was starting a vegetarian life. I spent my early tween years organizing an online group called “Veggie Club,” which I used to distribute vegetarian related e-newsletters to fellow vegetarians I met online, and we even had a website back when domains were free. Back then even vegetarianism was quite rare, and especially veganism. I used PETA’s web resources a lot because they were one of the only groups back then with a strong online presence. I’ve been veg now for 18 years, but it wasn’t until 2013 that I finally took the leap towards full veganism. With my decision to go vegan I feel like my ethical convictions are now totally aligned with my values, and that is very good feeling. I knew when I went vegetarian that I didn’t want to support animal exploitation, but without taking the full leap to being vegan it is impossible to avoid exploitation.

What has your experience been like as a vegan in Michigan? Is it particularly hard, or do you have a lot of resources and a strong vegan community around you?

There were a couple times previously in my teens I thought about veganism but I experienced major push back from my family and dropped the idea. I didn’t have any vegetarian family or friends for years and definitely didn’t know any vegans. My biggest regret is not going vegan sooner, but I realize now how important having the social support of other vegans can be in making this kind of life-changing, ethical decision. This was one of my major motivations for starting the Michigan-based nonprofit organization Vegan Michigan. Michigan has a decent-sized vegan community in the bigger cities, and the vegan restaurants and businesses have been increasing significantly in recent years. There are not a lot of restaurants that are 100% vegan, but a lot of places are at least offering significant vegan selections due to increased demand. A lot of groups and individuals are working hard to do “restaurant outreach” in our area and educate businesses about why they should carry more vegan options.

You founded the group Vegan Michigan to promote animal rights and cruelty-free lifestyles. What motivated you to organize your outreach efforts in this way? How has the response been so far?

The social and community aspect of veganism is really important because it aids people in being able to take that next step. This was a major motivation in organizing Vegan Michigan as a collective. There are many people who are already vegetarian or leaning in this direction but they feel alone in their convictions and are not able to take “the next step” towards adopting the vegan lifestyle. I want to educate individuals, advocate for animals, and build community among vegans. The community aspect cannot be over emphasized, as I believe this is key to creating lasting change and supporting each other in our common goal of ending animal exploitation and promoting veganism as the path towards achieving this goal.

We’ve had an extremely positive response to our efforts thus far. Many people have contacted me about volunteering, guest blog writing, working events, or helping us with our efforts in other ways. The vision for Vegan Michigan is to be a collective, not a top-down organization. We hope to continue to increase our stakeholders and contributors and want everyone to feel like they have an equal stake in the organization. Veganism isn’t about me or you or any one person playing the big shot. It’s about doing what’s best for the movement and for the animals.

What sort of goals do you have in the near future for Vegan Michigan and for yourself as a vegan advocate?

We plan to increase our presence at local community events in terms of educating the public about a vegan diet and lifestyle. We have a large-scale event planned for June 2015 called the All for One Festival, which focuses on yoga and healthy living. The event will highlight vegan cooking and food, animal-related nonprofit groups, vegan-friendly businesses, free yoga, and veg movie screenings. One problem I’ve noticed with many vegan events is that they are organized by vegans and only vegans show up. That is not an effective way to do outreach if the general public is not attending the events. In terms of building up the already vegan community that may be a good strategy, but Vegan Michigan is interested in reaching out to the general public and convincing more people to adopt a vegan diet and lifestyle. We are structuring our events to appeal to the general public so that non-vegans attend and are able to learn more about veganism.

As far as goals for myself as an activist, I attended the 2014 Animal Rights National conference this July and learned a lot and met some awesome activists in our movement. I’m planning to also attend the World Vegan Expo in March and continue to expand my activist strategies and skills to bring back and use in our efforts with Vegan Michigan.

I also know that you have your own microsanctuary for farmed animals, including chickens and ducks. How did you get into rescuing farmed animals as a vegan?

About a year ago I started dating my boyfriend, Ryan, who is also vegan. Ryan is heavily involved with animal rehab and rescue at the Lowell Farm and Wildlife Center. As a vegan, working directly with animals is something we are all drawn to do, and almost every vegan I know dreams of “someday” opening their own animal sanctuary. The microsanctuary concept empowers vegans to make “someday” into now. We don’t have to own a million acres of land or have a million dollars to offer sanctuary to rescued farm animals. We can do this on a small scale now with the resources we do have.microsanctuary2

We started off building our microsanctuary with a few Pekin ducks who were rescued from wandering on the highway in the winter. These are the kind of ducks people raise for meat or eggs; they were surely not being fed well and wandered off. We freerange the ducks during the day, and they have never left the property. We have a large shed in our yard that we turned into an animal barn for the ducks. We later continued to add more rescued animals whom we found out about because of our connections with the wildlife center. We added six chickens and three goats. The goats share the barn with the ducks and the chickens have their own custom-made coop and run. We built the goat enclosure ourselves with supplies we bought from Lowe’s. I’m not a country girl—I was born and raised in the city—but I’ve educated myself on farm animal care with the help of my supportive boyfriend, and together we are caring for the animals we have here.

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How does your own microsanctuary inform your work as an advocate? Do you see the two as being interrelated in any way?

I definitely feel closer to my passion for ending animal exploitation because of the microsanctuary. Every day I am reminded by these amazing animals what I am fighting for. My work as an animal advocate and having a microsanctuary are two things that definitely can and should go hand in hand.

Have you seen other people undertaking similar efforts where you live by seeking to provide permanent homes to rescued farmed animals while committing to not using them? Are you noticing any sort of increase in the number of people doing what you do on a larger (national or international) scale?

The microsanctuary concept really has not taken off around my area. There is still a lot of confusion around when it is okay to use animal products and when is it not okay. For example, a lot of people house chickens in order to use their eggs rather than just for the pure joy of housing the chickens. While the ethics of using a backyard chicken egg is better in comparison to using a factory farmed egg, either way the animal is only being appreciated for what he or she can give us and not for what he or she is. Animals are not ours to use and should be respected as sentient beings.

As a vegan advocate working hard in the community, I am sure you know that there a plethora of approaches to getting non-vegans to make the transition. What sorts of strategies have worked best for you? Where would you like to see the vegan/animal rights movement head in the future?

I am acutely aware of the differences of opinion between vegan activists and the different approaches being used. For Vegan Michigan, it was intentional that we used the word “Vegan” in our name rather than the more common “Veg” because we felt that “Veg” gives the impression that either vegetarian or veganism is the goal rather than veganism. However, we also recognize people make their own choice in terms of how to get to this goal and whether to take steps or go “cold turkey.” We support all steps towards veganism, but we make veganism the clear goal in our efforts to educate individuals. We also don’t shy away from talking about the health or environmental benefits of a plant-based diet. I’ve known people who adopt a plant-based diet for reasons other than ethical ones and later come around to what I like to call “the truth.” I’d love it if every single person responded to the abolitionist model, but I don’t think everyone responds well to that approach even though to me personally it makes the most sense.

microsanctuary7While I consider myself an abolitionist at heart, it is hard to stomach the idea of making zero welfare reforms in the meantime while we continue to fight for a vegan world. We have to think about what we can do to help animals now while at the same time promoting a consistently vegan message. I really believe that veganism is the ultimate promotion of compassion and nonviolence, but some key activists are very critical of each other in a way that doesn’t promote these ideals. In the future, I would like to see the welfare reformers and abolitionist vegans working together more and less criticism and division within the movement. I really believe we all want the same thing and that is to end animal exploitation.

What are some of the biggest challenges and/or issues that vegan advocates need to be addressing?

There are SO many things that need to be done. We are at the very beginning of a major social movement: the animal rights movement! We have the animal sanctuaries, we have the lawyers, we have the grassroots nonprofits and vegan meetup groups, we have the bloggers, we have the career activists, and many many others fighting for this cause every day. I think every person in this movement plays a critical role since we are a growing movement! I think bringing more attention to the exploitation and putting that information in front of people is the key way we will increase support for our movement. These types of outreach efforts, I believe, are critical in reaching non-vegans. I also think continuing to build community for those who have already made the decision to be vegan is important as well. One of the worst things to hear is that someone “was vegan” or “tried to be” but didn’t have enough social support.

How might we best inspire other vegans to take part in rescuing farmed animals from the agricultural system and becoming caregivers? Do you see this as having a key or marginal role in the larger effort to end exploitation?

I post a lot on social media about the animals we have here at our microsanctuary. I hope to inspire other vegans to house rescued farm animals rather than continuing to view farmed animals as the “others.” We happily adopt and foster dogs and cats but somehow view farmed animals in a totally different light. Even as vegans we can be guilty of viewing farmed animals this way. When people see pictures and videos of these amazing animals living happy lives this helps improve even non-vegans’ appreciation and compassion for farmed animals and hopefully brings them closer to making that connection.

For me personally, starting the microsanctuary has played a key role in strengthening my conviction as an activist. The animals inspire me every day to keep on fighting the good fight and to be the best version of myself. They make me want to work harder as an activist and motivate me to do what I need to do for the movement. In the larger effort to end exploitation, if the microsanctuary concept really took off, it could have a profound impact. I will certainly be doing my part to promote the microsanctuary movement to my fellow vegans as I know firsthand what a rewarding experience this can be.

Thanks for speaking with me about your microsanctuary and your work with Vegan Michigan!

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