Why A Canadian Judge’s Ruling About Dogs Is A Statement About Non-traditional Families

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Sometimes the family you make yourself is the only family you’ve got. Allowing the state to dictate that is divisive and cruel. 

In an unusual Canadian divorce case, a Sasketoon judge ruled in late December that a couple’s dog custody dispute was a “wasteful” and “demeaning” use of court time.

I could write for hours critiquing this judge’s insensitive 15-page decision. But let’s just take a handful of quotes from the piece to explain why his decision demonstrates violent bigotry against non-traditional families[CW: speciesism, heterosexism, classism, ableism]:

  1. “In Canada, we tend not to purchase our children from breeders.”
    Actually, humans pay people for sperm, embryos, and uteruses all the time. Just because we call them fertility clinics and wrap up these costs into the services they provide doesn’t mean they do not serve the same purpose as breeders. And adoption costs a lot of money too. So a variety of circumstances occur in which we functionally purchase human children.
  2. “We tend not to breed our children with other humans to ensure good bloodlines, nor do we charge for such services.”
    We tend to do exactly that. It’s called the aristocracy. Also, per above, fertility clinic much???
  3. “When our children are seriously ill, we generally do not engage in an economic cost/benefit analysis to see whether the children are to receive medical treatment, receive nothing or even have their lives ended to prevent suffering.”
    Governments and corporations undertake a cost/benefit analysis every time they make legal changes pertaining to healthcare.
  4. “When our children act improperly, even seriously and violently so, we generally do not muzzle them or even put them to death for repeated transgressions.”
    Perhaps Canadians don’t physically place a muzzle on children, but child protection statistics contain a laundry list of abuses we subject children to in the name of discipline up to and including execution. Also muzzling humans as a form of torture and abuse is not without precedent in western society.
  5. “He said that should be obvious to all based on a bit of logical, dispassionate thought.”
    The notion that the United States’ neighbors to the north represent an inherently progressive population is becoming increasingly overblown. Why do ‘pale, stale males’ still imagine that their thoughts to be the product of logical, dispassionate discourse when they’re only a single limited perspective to consider?
  6. “Danyliuk said given dogs are property and not family, it would be absurd for him to make a ruling about visitation rights.”
    Cis white men have attempted to define what constitutes my family for far too long. Radical concepts of family have existed for centuries outside of what ‘the law’ narrowly calls a family. And this is the crux of why his circular logic presents an act of violence.
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Mothers nursing children not belonging to them is often dismissed as a biological imperative unless you’re human (and even then, not always).

Mothers nursing children of different species is often dismissed as a biological imperative rather than an act of parenting. Only humans get the benefit of the doubt, and even then not all of us.

How many black families have been cobbled together with non-blood relatives? The lifelong friends we claim as cousins because we were raised together? The women we exalt as Auntie because they were always there to feed and clothe us absent a biological parent or guardian (or in collaboration with one because intergenerational poverty makes us responsible for one another) ?

How many queer families have adopted one another because we were rejected by bigoted parents and guardians? How many queer couples have been denied the right to execute their partner’s affairs? How many people are routinely denied medical care because they don’t meet the strict definition of a dependent in the healthcare industrial complex? Be they best friend, grandmother, or nephew. Are these intimate relationships invalid because the state deems them unworthy of protection?

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Mr.G [right suffered from severe depression until he was reunited with his companion Jellybean [left].
One could argue that the common denominator in all these circumstances is our humanity. But interspecies relationships are not uncommon, nor are they limited to humans. And by every meaningful metric, other species are persons. Judge Danyliuk would be wise to consider this evidence. And we would be wise to take note of how the establishment historically acted to diminish our individuality through the rule of law.

And for what it’s worth, none of the judge’s explanations for why animal companions should not be considered family are even valid reasons why we should be doing any of those things anyway, to humans or anyone else.

The bottom line is that we should be expanding our understanding of family, not restricting it.

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Kat Von D Illustrates the Dangers of Neoliberal Whiteness in Veganism

Celebrity vegan Kat Von D became a bit of an anti-racist hero when she outed former friend Jeffree Star for his racist comments. And her actions were 100% commendable. But here’s the thing about anti-racist work. It’s not a once-and-done business. We constantly have to be aware of what it means to fight institutional bigotry. And when an Instagram follower challenged Kat on perpetuating anti-black racism herself, accountability sailed clean out the window.

To briefly summarize the exchange, Von D posted a photo on her Instagram of her makeup team that featured a variety of white faces. [click on the image to read the full messy exchange]

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And one of her followers gently called her in by explaining that dark-skinned femmes were not represented.

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But instead of internalizing her follower’s words, Von D performed the mother of all tap dances and called on anti-black racism’s greatest hits.

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Judging by this comment, Kat doesn’t understand how her version of diversity doesn’t include black and brown faces, just different variations on white women. Much more troubling, she conflates race with nationality because American, Canadian, Dutch, Mexican, Australian, and Argentinian are NOT RACES. But then her next comment gets even worse.

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The reasons why colorblind ideology only reinforces racial inequality have been written about to death. Furthermore, she claims not to hire based on race. But statistically, hiring based on race is a time-honored tradition in our society. Otherwise, we’re just left to believe that unemployment rates for black people are double the rates of white people in the United States because that’s a weird quirky thing that mysteriously happens and that’s just the way it is.

The reason why this is relevant to our veganism is because we should be proceed cautiously when choosing our vegan heroes and heroines, and we should hold them accountable when they fail to act responsibly. When popular vegans perpetuate anti-blackness, they create more opportunities for potential black and brown allies to dismiss animal justice as a movement they want no parts of. Is that fair to animals? Obviously not. But that’s the reality of the world we live in. And I’d much rather cultivate a movement that fosters inclusivity instead of ignorance.

Kat Von D has a remarkable opportunity to support black femmes and pique their interest in veganism and animal liberation. I don’t want her to go away. I just want her to use that opportunity instead of just exploiting black femmes by profiting from their dollars.

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

Grub Factory

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

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

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

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

Volunteers

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

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

To a vegan mac ‘n cheese competition.

In Baltimore City.

That actually happened.

 

TheLine

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

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

Vegan Refocused       Chef Green

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

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

 

#LetsGoVegan

Brenda Sanders Joins the Striving with Systems Collaborator Crew

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

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

Aph is launching “Black Vegans Rock” in January!

(Originally posted on Aphro-ism)

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Logo designed by Eastrand Studios

I am super excited to announce that I am launching a new project in January called “Black Vegans Rock” which will spotlight black vegans who are doing incredible work everyday.

As you might know, I created a list that spotlighted 100 Black Vegans back in June titled #BlackVegansRock: 100 Black Vegans to Check Out.” To this day, I am receiving emails from black folks who are wondering how they can get featured on this list.

Rather than adding names on, I decided to create a new digital platform where I can spotlight individuals and their work every single day. A Well-Fed World has provided me with a grant to get this digital project off the ground, though I am still looking for financial donations to help sustain the site.

The goal of the website is to change the mainstream narrative surrounding veganism.

Rather than pointing out how other vegan organizations aren’t inclusive, or don’t incorporate intersectional thought into their campaigns, I’m going to create a new space that privileges intersectional thought, and spotlights black people everyday.

The goal is to: stop deconstructing white uncritical spaces, and start (re)constructing more black progressive spaces.

Black folks are regularly overlooked in the mainstream vegan movement. Most of the famous theorists, authors, and activists are white people. Most of the largest platforms for activism are created by white people, which silences grassroots voices. This representation distorts the reality of the vegan landscape which is actually diverse. There are so many black vegans who are doing work that matters, so I’m going to cater specifically to black vegans with this project. In an era of Black Lives Matter, I think it’s important that we celebrate black vegans who are doing incredible work.

We are such a diverse community, so the advisory board reflects that diversity.

The Advisory Board is comprised of:

Tracye McQuirter, MPH (By Any Greens Necessary)

Dr. Amie Breeze Harper (Sistah Vegan Project and Critical Diversity Solutions)

Kevin Tillman (Vegan Hip-Hop Movement)

Pax Ahimsa Gethen (Funcrunch Files)

Christopher Sebastian McJetters (Vegan Publishers and Striving with Systems)

Syl Ko (Aphro-ism)

Dr. Milton Mills (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine)

Stephanie Redcross (Vegan Mainstream)

Demetrius Bagley (Vegucated)

If you are a black vegan and you want your restaurant, book, project, website, lecture, or any other awesome project to be featured on the site, or if you know of any black vegans who should be spotlighted, send an email to:

blackvegansrock@gmail.com

In your submission provide us with your:

1. Name

2. 500 word description of what you’re submitting

3. A High-Definition Photo or Video

4. All links to relevant social media pages and features on other sites that reflect how awesome your project is

*we ask that all submission materials be suitable for all audiences

*the submission email will soon change to submissions@blackvegansrock.com but it’s not set up yet

You can help me out by sharing this digital poster on all of your social media pages right now. Hopefully black vegans will find it and submit their information for a feature 🙂

Are you a black vegan who is looking to get your work %22out there?%22

If you would like to help out by giving a financial donation to Black Vegans Rock, or if you want to help us spread the word about our organization, send an email to aphkoproductions@gmail.com.

Make sure you “LIKE” the Black Vegans Rock Facebook Page as well as the Twitter page. We will start populating it in January.

#blackvegansrock

“I am not a part of your Machine” shirts now available!

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I am excited to announce that Triangle Chance for All is partnering with The Ghosts in Our Machine to bring you an exclusive shirt! Available in short and long sleeves, the shirt features the signature Ghosts cog by Michele Gorham, along with the text “I am not a part of your machine,” which is from my poem “The Iowa Dirge.” The back features “For the ghosts” with a link to the film’s website.

The men’s T-shirts are available in organic cotton, sizes S-XL, and the women’s T-shirts are available in cotton, S-XL. The American Apparel long-sleeve shirts are available in S-XL. They are available from the TCA website, and 50% of proceeds go to benefit our rescue, sanctuary, and education efforts! Go to http://trianglechanceforall.org/support-tca/merchandise/ to order yours! (Shipping is available.)

ALSO, we would like to let everyone know that Triangle Chance for All will be presenting the North Carolina premiere of The Ghosts in Our Machine on Tuesday, September 16, 2014! The FREE screening will be part of Vegan Night Out, which will include special vegan dining options and the film screening in downtown Chapel Hill. Stay tuned for more details about the event, but mark your calendar now!

Please show your support for TCA and for the ghosts!