The domestic laying chicken has been intensely selected to be a persistent ovulator. That is, the tendency for broodiness has been nearly eliminated and, given the appropriate lighting and nutrition, many strains of laying hens produce an egg on almost every day. […] Commercial laying hens also spontaneously develop ovarian cancer at a high rate, and susceptibility to this disease has been associated with ovulatory events in women.
Think about all that for a second.
Hens are forced by genetic manipulation to lay eggs so frequently that they are highly predisposed to reproductive cancers. The thing they were bred to do for humans will likely kill them.
I’m in Chicago O’Hare airport right now, I’ve been on a trip that included New York, Philly, and suburban Illinois. This is the last stop. I’m on my way home. I’m about to catch my flight. But before heading out this morning I paid a visit to an old family friend.
An auntie as we say. Of course it’s always an auntie or a cousin. People who have been in your life for years, but don’t have a biological link, have to fit in some category. So if they’re close to us in age, they’re a cousin. But if they’re significantly older, they need some designation that establishes a type of respect. Hence auntie.
My auntie is in her 70s. Like my grandmother, she smokes Pall Mall cigarettes (and she pronounced them Pell Mell). And when she doesn’t have a good enough reason to leave her home, she wears her dressing gown all day.
As far as I’m concerned, #GOALS.
She muted the tv as we sat down and asked how I was doing. (I’m fine.)
She asked if I’m seeing anyone. (I’m still not.)
She didn’t ask if I was seeing a girl. She knows I’m gay, but we don’t talk about it. She’s not exactly homophobic. But she doesn’t really know what to do with this information. So instead of asking about boys specifically, she just plays the pronoun game. Which is hilarious considering where we collectively are with pronouns for trans people. But I digress.
We spent about 15 minutes with her getting me caught up on Days of Our Lives. Personally I gave up on ‘the stories’ in the early 2000s. But she keeps me in the loop so I’m not lost in case I come back to the fold. I was devastated when Stefano DiMera died. The actor’s death in real life reminded me that all my faves that I grew up will age and pass away.
Eventually we were both on our phones because ~21st century. I’m mildly surprised she uses her smartphone as much as she does. But auntie ain’t no goddamn punk. She might not own a computer. But she uses her phone nonstop, and she knows how to DVR better than I can.
Somehow we got on the topic of social media. She follows me on Facebook. She doesn’t know wtf I’m talking about half the time. But she thinks I’m pretty popular.
We talked about the piece I put up on Thursday. I told her the Internet was hauling me up over it. A couple of folks were pressed about the main gist of the essay, but mainly people took issue with the trigger warnings part.
Now all this social justice talk is pretty boring to her. So I did my best to explain in brief what all the terms and catchphrases meant and why I said wtf I said.
Not a week passes by in which I don’t have at least two messages from people either telling me that something I said in conversation online should have had a trigger warning, and two more messages from people telling me words that I should not say at ALL when talking about other animals regardless of the circumstances (btw, the list includes, among other words: slavery, rape, kidnap, abuse, captive, refugee, and prisoner).
At one point, I found myself trying to hold space in my head to accommodate this rapidly accumulating list of words while speaking and trying to monitor for anything that might remotely damage someone else. In some ways, it’s like my Czech language classes…except there’s a penalty for getting it wrong. And in some cases, that penalty is severe. Every single day, I could feel my anxiety peak with the understanding that I would inevitably fail and end up in an even worse depression than I am already experiencing (and for longer and longer periods, these days).
She sat calmly reading her phone, not even looking up. To the average person, it probably appeared as though she wasn’t even listening to me. But to a veteran smartphone multi-tasker, I knew she heard every word. Patiently she asked, “Sebastian, who are the people that are worrying you?”
“Intersectional vegans,” I answered quickly.
“No, I mean are they white?”
And I thought about it. Yes. Yes, they are white. Every single person rolling up through my DMs—of whom there are dozens—rolling up through my DMs with new demands is white. One hundred percent. And I don’t mean some approximate percentage that is close to one hundred. I mean every last one of them. I told her this.
Seemingly unsurprised, she asked further, “No black people at all?”
“A couple of black voices, to varying degrees, responded to my post that they had a dissenting position. But none who were particularly pressed. Mostly questioning or adding to the conversation. But no, I never actually received a message from a black person requesting a trigger warning or telling me what words I should use or avoid.”
“Sounds to me like you don’t have a problem with trigger warnings. You have a white people problem.”
And right there was the crux of my situation in fourteen words.
She smiled that smile of people who BEEN knew shit that you just now finding out and said, “Sebastian, black people have been dealing with trauma in this country for hundreds of years. We know what it looks like. We’re used to managing it. Even if we didn’t have the language to articulate it. Unfortunately, we were never afforded the privilege of avoiding these ‘triggers’ that traumatize us.”
She said ‘triggers’ in that tone people use when they don’t know what in the hell you’re talking about and would just as soon use the word ‘who-zee-wutz-it.’
“What frustrates you,” she continued, “Is that white people are finding new ways to dominate the conversation by making demands upon blackness to make them comfortable while they are learning to deal with it.”
She sat there staring at me like you’d stare at a child who is figuring out that there ain’t no damn tooth fairy. Like, “Come on. Did you really think some white woman was coming in your house to pick up body parts that have fallen out of your face and pay you money for them?”
It seems so obvious now that I think about it. Of course nobody deserves to deal with trauma. And everyone should be afforded the space to manage it. But what I didn’t like was whiteness appropriating the intellectual property of black women, i.e., intersectionality, to prioritize their needs or otherwise avoid feeling offended.
Not prioritizing the needs of black women. Certainly not prioritizing the needs of other animals. Themselves.
That’s not the fault of trigger warnings. That’s an issue of white supremacy and white entitlement.
And here before me was a black woman without the trappings of a university education. Who didn’t define herself as a goddamn intersectional anything. And who wasn’t even vegan.
And then I felt ashamed and angry with myself for relying on her counsel. AGAIN. I’m yet another person using the emotional and intellectual resources of black women to unpack my own struggles.
So two things I learned from this experience. Number one, I need to more closely examine what I’m feeling and why in order to write with greater intention. Number two and more importantly, always check in with black women. Not for myself, but for them.
And as I left, the television still sat muted in the background. On the screen, the news was reporting the unfolding story of white supremacists waging war in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The trauma doesn’t end.
Author’s note: To everyone who participated in the conversation on Facebook from a place of loving engagement, thank you. I’m sorry. I appreciate having a community that wants to build instead of promote toxic behaviors and for understanding that ALL YOUR FAVES ARE PROBLEMATIC. Even and especially me. So we have to rely on each other to get through this. And as with all things, I’m leaving that previous post as is. Because if we don’t fucking allow people the space to evolve and change (spoiler alert: we don’t), then basically we’re saying that oppressive behavior is the default position forever, which is of course absurd. Otherwise nobody would ever be vegan…and I wouldn’t have written this post.
During a debate last month over a bill amendment to protect LGBT people, Republican lawmaker Rick Brattin stated, “When you look at the tenets of religion, of the Bible, of the Qu’ran, of other religions, there is a distinction between homosexuality and just being a human being.”
I’ll repeat that last part again for the folks in the cheap seats. There is a distinction between homosexuality and just being a human being. That’s right. Brattin believes homosexuality makes someone inhuman. And hes’s not alone.
I was going to be stunned at this remarkable quote. But then I remembered that these words are only the latest in a long and proud history of conservative U.S. politicians making inflammatory statements about queer people, and I couldn’t even be bothered to raise an eyebrow.
See, ‘human’ is coded language for normative whiteness. Access to that whiteness is only granted by jumping through a lot of flaming hoops. And guess what? Such access is fleeting and can be revoked at any given time. Anybody who is not ‘human’ by the standards of normative whiteness is either collateral damage, inferior, or an exploitable resource (and that last one can include animals who are not human, black people, pretty much anybody with a working uterus, low wage workers, or all of the above at the same time!).
White gay men get to join the club…but only sometimes. The protections of whiteness for them are limited based on their ability to perform heterosexual masculinity. And as we can see from Brattin’s remarks, buttsex will occasionally get them thrown under the bus.
And if the comments on the Pink News article are any indication, they’re not too happy about it.
Of course, being animalized under the gaze of normative whiteness is nothing new to any person of color. Folks have been comparing black people to animals since forever. Ask Serena Williams or Michelle Obama. There’s no shortage of examples. And if you’re a queer black woman, well then you just got hit with a triple whammy because you stand smack dab at the cross section of race, gender, and sexuality. And the bus is coming FAST. Btw, don’t even think about being trans too because, well…[trails off in exhaustion at the thought of writing 14,000 more words].
Of course the trap we fall into is continuing to allow whiteness the benefit of maintaining this hierarchy. Human (read: whiteness) can’t sit at the top of the heap if we abolish the heap altogether. When I stopped seeking to prove my humanity in the eyes of whiteness and instead allied myself with all marginalized persons to include animals, I gained a more cohesive sense of solidarity. Longtime vegan and queer activist pattrice jones explores this theme in her talk about the commonalities of oppression, which was pivotal to changing my framework.
As a femme-of-center queer black person who cares about human rights, I contend that our collective understanding of such rights has shifted to gaining our own access to whiteness as opposed to seeking justice. And since that still maintains the hierarchy of oppression, I’m not interested. This is, in part, why the focus of my activism centers animals instead. We already know that oppression thrives in isolation. So using our privilege to align ourselves with more marginalized groups is a direct threat to the institution of white supremacy.
Although realistically speaking, queer white people (men in particular) can’t even be bothered to find solidarity with queer people of color, the most recent example being the viciously racist criticisms of queer people in Philadelphia who unveiled a new variation of the pride flag in their local community. So maybe I’m just praying for a miracle.
And disclaimer: before you find it within your heart to say that black people co-sign on these shenanigans too, we are already well aware. This is why I stress the phrase normative whiteness. You don’t have to actually BE white in order to identify with or perpetuate it. Anti-blackness is a helluva drug. And ironically, addiction to it isn’t limited to skin color.
Speaking of which, can we go back to Ben Carson for a minute? I mean, we really need to do something. This man is a brain surgeon. An actual BRAIN SURGEON. I feel like y’all should be more scared than I think you are.
As is the case with all animals humans share space with, chickens can occasionally carry zoonotic pathogens that may transfer to humans and other animals. Sadly, many health organizations are zeroing in on this as a public health threat, and in the process they and the media are creating a skewed picture of chickens as dirty, diseased enemies of public welfare. And apparently cuddling is the problem!
So when HuffPost Lifestyle shared an ominously headlined article about chickens making people ill, Vegans with Chickens showed up to defiantly support chicken companionship and cuddles in the context of rescue and non-exploitation, pointing out along the way the hypocrisy of targeting chickens as too nasty to cuddle but perfectly okay to eat.
One of the most common discussions I get drawn into these days is on the ethics of keeping chickens for eggs in supposedly “humane” situations, like a suburban backyard. The details vary from time to time but always deal with humans wanting to eat hens’ eggs and feeling justification in doing so because the hens are not in a cage, a shed, or a slaughterhouse.
But there is much more to those “happy eggs” than is immediately apparent, and so I am hoping this post can serve as a handy guide for vegan advocates who have gotten beyond the “factory farming” horizon and want to talk about all forms of animal agriculture…and maybe for some non-vegans who think backyard eggs are better (they are not).
Just because a hen is not in a cage, shed, or slaughterhouse does not mean she is free from exploitation. One of the hardest parts of talking to people about the problems with “humane eggs” is that culturally, we tend to focus on treatment (cages are bad, sheds full of sick hens are bad, slaughterhouses are bad, beating an animal is bad), so under the prevailing standards a little flock of hens in someone’s yard looks nice and bucolic. But that focus on treatment is really dealing with aesthetics, not ethics.
The crux of the problem with the whole idea that chickens’ eggs can ever be ethically neutral as a foodstuff for humans is: domestication. Modern domesticated hens lay about twenty times more eggs each year than their wild ancestors, the Red Jungle Fowl of southeast Asia, who lay 10-15 purely for reproduction. Read that again: TWENTY TIMES. That averages out at around 250-300 eggs per hen every year from about six months until their laying declines and peters out around four-five years old.
Selective breeding and genetic manipulation through thousands of years of domestication have thus completely hijacked the bodies of chickens: the ramping up of sex hormones and the physical process of laying takes a devastating toll, causing all sorts of problems (egg yolk peritonitis, impacted egg material, cancer, osteoporosis, prolapses…). These will usually kill a hen before she stops laying on her own; however, if kept healthy they can live into their teens.
The roosters suffer too–not only by being killed as chicks or once they crow because nobody wants male laying-breed chickens. They also have jacked up sex hormones that take a toll on their bodies as well. Simply put, no matter where they came from, virtually every single hen had a brother who was killed for no good reason.
It is also worth noting that whenever a chicken-keeper says their hens are all perfectly healthy, keep in mind that laying and other health problems happen in all breeds, not just the two most frequently used on industrial farms (white Leghorns and reddish brown Sex Links). Most people aren’t aware of the subtle signs that a chicken is ill (as prey species they are amazingly stoic) and get no vet care at all. The hens our sanctuary takes in from backyard situations are almost always sick with something, and/or have been the sole survivors of predator attacks due to negligence.
Along with all these physical consequences for chickens is the issue of bodily autonomy. When a hen lays an egg, why on Earth do we feel we have a right to something her body has created? Instead of stealing what is theirs, the best thing to do would be feed eggs back to the hens–eggs are usually their favorite treats, and doing so returns depleted vital nutrients in the eggs to the bodies they were pulled from.
For some reason humans think you can exploit and manipulate the bodies and very genes of non-humans over millennia, and then when those exploited bodies function as humans want them to, we can claim that what they do is “natural” and continue using them (dithering about welfare and treatment is often as far as we’re willing to go…).
That is fucked up, a tactic right out of the Humane Myth playbook…and that is why eggs are inherently unethical for human consumption, regardless of where they come from.
Eating hens’ eggs or allowing other humans to do so is perpetuating that system of exploitation and normalizing violence, including violence that is embodied as a result of domestication.
We adore our family of rescued chickens, and it is agonizing to get them to the safety of a vegan sanctuary and then see all the health problems they have due to their biology and breeding. Even with access to great veterinary care, far too often our hands are tied by their genes. We have lost so many beloved family members because of this, and I will never pretend that humans eating eggs and exploiting chickens to do so is nice, happy, or humane. No other vegans should either.
Can using the bodies of animals run over by speeding motorists be ethical? Emma Willats thinks so.
This past Sunday, The Press and Journal ran a story about the enterprising Scottish vegan taxidermist who (you guessed it) heavily relies on the corpses of roadkill to make luxury fashion accessories for human consumers.
Obviously upon reading this, I immediately died. But I had to resurrect myself quickly before a plucky young white woman discovered my lifeless corpse and saw a business opportunity.
Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin. Perhaps I should just quote Willats herself:
“The way I look at it is that if something has been killed for me then that’s wrong (okay, so far we’re on the same page). But if it’s something that’s died naturally or been run over then we should try to preserve it in some way (starting to lose me). It feels like a bigger waste to just throw an animal to the wayside once it’s dead (yup, totally lost). It’s better to use them in taxidermy than have some council employee just discard them (ORRRR we could also not consider dead bodies to be commodities for human consumption…because that’s also an option). We should be encouraged to use every part of the animal (as opposed to just discouraging people from using others’ bodies at all). I know a lot of people don’t like what I do but once I explain it I think I manage to win them over (ohhhh, so close!). I want to make use of the whole animal rather than just the face (GURL! 0_____0).“
The Press and Journal goes on to report that Willats “started working out of a bothy at her remote home after her partner suffered a nearly fatal car crash.” There is no mention of whether or not Willats had designs on her partner’s corpse had they not survived. But one can only assume a nice pair of kitten heels and a keychain might have been possible. And since some pieces are sold for up to £750, quite profitable!
But this highlights a couple of problems of how we sometimes approach vegan advocacy. First, if we’re trying to decide how to best exploit someone’s corpse (whether they died accidentally or on purpose), we’re probably asking the wrong questions. Instead of asking howto exploit a corpse, we should be asking why we think we are privileged to someone’s corpse at all. When we start mulling over how bodies can benefit us, that almost always spells trouble for pretty much everyone who isn’t a straight white, cisgender, wealthy, able-bodied human male. Don’t believe me? Take the case of El Negro.
In 1831, French dealer Jules Verreaux witnessed the burial of a Tswana warrior in the African interior to the north of Capetown. Shockingly, he returned under the cover of darkness to DIG UP HIS REMAINS AND ROB HIS GRAVE! The warrior’s body was displayed as a museum piece for over 150 years before it was finally returned to African soil and properly buried in 2000.
This isn’t a comparison of black people and animal bodies, btw. This is an example of how an imperialist and capitalist mentality teaches us to devalue some bodies as consumable goods and escalate the value of others as sacred instead of respecting every individual’s autonomy in life and in death.
And it’s not limited to race and species. Social class is another indicator of how we value certain bodies. In the 19th century United Kingdom, the only cadavers that could legally be dissected for medical experimentation and study were those of humans condemned to death by the state. The problem? Only 55 people were executed each year on average, and expansion of medical schools meant that up to 500 were needed!
So to the original question, does using bodies create a demand for bodies? Well, yes! Historically, the answer to this question is ABSOLUTELY YES! Imperialist capitalist thought demonstrably compels us to exploit the underclass (regardless of what face that underclass takes). Dismantling the system is critical to the liberation of all species.
And in case any condescending smart ass is going to make the argument that indigenous people use animal bodies too, save it. Focusing on the cultural practices of indigenous communities who use bodies out of necessity is every bit as disingenuous as focusing on those crafty minimum wage earners trying to get by instead of shining the light on the wealthy CEOs who hoard global resources and create artificial scarcity. It’s a head fake, and it’s sickening.
As long as we view persons—human and otherwise—as inherently exploitable resources, we can never live (or die) free.
I’m coming off of a long weekend that required me to do a lot of work interacting with people. Much as I love what I do, I also suffer from social anxiety disorder (more on that in another post). Thing is, I get asked all the time what I do for self care, and I honestly have no idea what that even means. I mean, I have a vague concept of it. But from what I can glean between the pages of Cosmo and Prevention, it has a lot do with idyllic-looking slim white women doing mindful meditation, whispering affirmations, and practicing yoga. I think the last straw was reading a magazine article on self care in a doctor’s office that suggested wearing a funny hat at a jaunty angle all day or go to work wearing a plastic mustache and offer no explanation. That was pretty much the point at which I decided that although black people suffer from the types of emotional trauma that white people could not even conceive, this [thoroughly middle class] culture of self care is not for us. It is liable to get us fired from our jobs (as if underemployment doesn’t already disproportionately affect us) or get us killed. Mind you, I’m not here to hate on white lady self care. If going to the symphony and buying balloons is your lane, do it.
But here’s what I do for self care. And please disabuse yourself in advance of any notion whatsoever that what I do for self care is in the least bit healthy. In fact, these things are downright self destructive. Why? Because being black and queer is messy. Like everything about my fucking life. And not everything I do has to be designed to rehabilitate my soul or make me one with the universe. Most of the time, everything I do is about keeping the lights on for a few more weeks. This isn’t about my long-term health and well-being. It’s about my fucking survival and being able to make it the next five minutes without inconsolably sobbing. And when that five minutes is over, then we worry about the next five minutes. Because my life is divided into moments when I’m inconsolably sobbing and moments when I’m trying to disguise how puffy my eyes are from inconsolably sobbing. So here’s my tips:
Fuck somebody bad for you. Do you have an ex that’s been trying to get in your panties? Let them. But if you set your life on fire and change cities as frequently as I do, then an ex might not be accessible. In which case, find somebody fuckable on the internet and arrange a casual hookup. Bottom line, just get the hell out there and throw yer goddamn cat at somebody you couldn’t care less about. Don’t try to be too cute. You won’t see this person again. Just wash out your bits and brush your teeth. Believe me, they’ll be doing the same. Is this going to solve all your problems? No. But if you’re anything like me, you spend about 90% of your time feeling like you’re not pretty enough or attractive enough or athletic enough. And it doesn’t matter how many times your friends tell you otherwise, you’re just NEVER GOING TO BELIEVE IT. This is about getting the validation that somebody thinks you’re good enough to bang. At least in this moment. Just use protection. The last thing you want or need is an STD. They’re annoying and expensive. And your broke ass does NOT have time to take off from work and go to the fucking clap clinic.
Masturbate. Can’t find somebody to fuck you? Don’t have time to look? Already have a committed monogamous partner (in which case, lucky you!)? Fine. Take care of your goddamn self. You don’t even have to get your depressed ass out of bed for this one. Just handle your business and keep it moving. You just need to take the edge off. And half your nasty asses are doing it at work anyway.
Eat until you feel sick. Doctor Oz will probably ask you if you really NEED that seitanburger…or how will you FEEL after you eat all those Oreos…or maybe did that container of frosting REALLY make you happy. But that charlatan is not paying your ever-increasing pile of fucking bills. Are you concerned with the amount of palm oil in your processed foods? Yes. Does chocolate obtained as the product of West African child slaves concern you? Also yes. But are you in the middle of a full-blown emotional crisis and incapable of making ethical decisions about your consumption habits? Definitely yes. So it doesn’t matter in this moment what the long-term health consequences are of these ramen noodles. And you’re not in the mood to be shamed for not following a whole foods diet. You can solve the world’s problems tomorrow when you’re back in one of those non-inconsolable crying moments. Oreos and bacon Pringles are vegan. And today, that’s enough.
Sleep. Yes, you are experiencing a wave of depression that is sapping your energy and making it impossible to move. Might as well use it to catch up on your rest because you otherwise work 75-hour weeks for what is never enough money.
Be petty. Period.
Say no…and nothing else. Because no is a complete fucking sentence and it’s not nobody’s goddamn business why you choose it. So no explanation is necessary and anyone who doesn’t like it can go to hell.
Be ignorant and belligerent. When you’re black, everyone thinks you’re angry anyway. Give them a reason. It’s not incumbent upon you to be poised and elegant and composed and professional all the time. Trust me. Your eloquence is wasted on people who are not looking for a rational explanation. Save your energy for the people who you can tell want and deserve loving education. You can see the pricks who are trying to be a pain in the ass from a mile away. So give them hell. You don’t have to respond with patience and understanding every time someone commits a racial or homophobic transgression against you. Sometimes the answer isn’t a link to a study or a detailed explanation to coolly explain why they’re wrong. Sometimes the answer is “Your fucking mother…that’s why.” And that’s okay. You deserve to have a bad day.
Spend money you know goddamn well you don’t have. Is that $400 student loan payment due tomorrow? Yup. Do you have $400 to pay it? Nope. Do you have $20 to spend on this top that was probably made in a Chinese sweat shop? You do? Well look at gawd! Guess who just got themselves a new fucking top. Let’s face it. That $20 was not going to get that bill paid one way or the other. So you might as well be able to spend money on SOMETHING that makes you feel slightly less crummy in this shitty-ass capitalist society that is burning everything and everyone you love to dust.