Monthly Archives: April 2016

White Women Wanted? Research Uncovers Diversity Strains in Vegan Media Spaces

Cover of BUST magazine showing a white woman, cover of VegNews showing a white woman, and cover of The Advocate showing James Franco

A two-part content analysis I began in 2012 has just been published in Societies and the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics. The first study, published in JAEE examined media diversity in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, the second study, published in Societies, expanded that analysis to include other movements for comparison. I conducted this research with the understanding that the vegan movement, for the most part, has escaped scientific analysis, although many theorists (such as Dr. Breeze Harper) have commented on the curious tendency for anti-speciesist media to portray mostly white, thin women. Vegan media is a vast and varied landscape, and my content analysis could only give a limited perspective. Yet, with so little prior research to inform vegan studies, a magazine analysis of high-profile publications is as good of a place to start as any.

I wanted to see exactly who was dominating the covers of vegan media (I particularly looked at VegNews and Animal Times). I was concerned that, as with Yoga Journal, which features almost all thin white women and reflects (or aggravates) the same demographic in yoga classes to the potential alienation of people of color and people of size, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, too, could be presenting (and thus attracting) a very limited demographic. For comparison, I analyzed two magazines from the feminist movement and two from the gay rights movement. 

The conclusion? None of the movements are adequately representative of their actual movement constituency or the diversity found in the wider public. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement, in particular, seems to love its skinny white women (probably as much as Yoga Journal, come to think of it!).

This is important for movements in two ways. First, any movement in the business of social justice should be concerned if its strategies are complacent in the marginalization of vulnerable groups. Second, a diverse constituency is not just an ethical problem, but a strategic one. Diversity is important for movement success.

The good news is that this is an easy enough fix. Vegan media producers could work more mindfully to ensure that no demographic is underrepresented. However, even if more diverse body types and backgrounds were to hit the covers, I don’t think the solution is so simple. If the movement structure itself doesn’t change to become less white-centric/thin-centric, non-normative cover subjects will only act as tokens. Diversity isn’t a matter of checking off quotas; it’s about redesigning the space to be more inclusive and safe for a variety of experiences and identities.

 


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about gender and race politics in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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Essay on Incorporating Diversity into Vegan Advocacy published on The Vegan Society

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I have just published an essay originally authored in 2013 on The Vegan Society’s blog. The essay is titled, “In a world of food deserts and many other inequalities, Professor Corey Wrenn gives tips on how vegan outreach can be made more inclusive for all walks of life.” It explores how white-centrism in our discourse and attention can alienate communities of color who might otherwise be interested in or benefit from vegan outreach. Diversity is important for improving resonance, and this should be incorporated into our dialogue, our outreach materials, and our campaign frameworks.

 


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Author’s Reception at Monmouth University

Dr. Corey Lee Wrenn

At an author’s reception at Monmouth University on April 6, 2016, I gave a short speech on the purpose of my latest book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights (available from palgrave.com). I stated that, as an activist-scholar, I hoped to make Nonhuman Animal rights more accessible to Sociology, and Sociology more accessible to Nonhuman Animal rights. I was tickled to receive some support from our provost in the back of the audience, who is also a vegan!

 


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Should We Promote Veganism or Meet People Where They Are?

Vegan Outreach

In my research, I have uncovered that many large non-profits in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement spend considerable effort invisibilizing, dismissing, or vilifying radical vegan activism. Consider this Vegan Outreach newsletter excerpt as an example:

In the end, we each need to make a choice — do we spend our time glorifying and defending our specific veganism (and any other food and political obsessions we insist on attaching), or do we do realistic work for a vegan world?

Presenting veganism as a “glorification” and “defense” of “political obsessions” is one such way that nonvegan (or “veg”) organizations are able to present themselves as “common sense” to the detriment of social justice positions. But this is not a fair comparison. Activists can absolutely promote veganism and keep goals realistic.

Vegan Outreach conjures an “either/or” scenario because it has a vested interested in doing so:  it fears that promoting veganism would alienate donors (it admits this in public interviews I analyzed). Without donors, organizations trapped in the non-profit industrial complex will have difficulty supporting staff and amassing wealth. Large non-profits thus appeal to nonveganism to protect and grow their resources.

Unfortunately, what is beneficial for individual organizations is not necessarily good for the Nonhuman Animal rights movement at large or its nonhuman constituency. As long as the professionalized Nonhuman Animal rights movement invisibilizes or diminishes veganism as the bare minimum of what is owed to other animals, it cannot reasonably be expected that the movement’s audience will value veganism.

Of course, some folks will respond to the vegan message with compromised actions; this is unavoidable given the reality of structural and social barriers.  However, if organizations such as Vegan Outreach are broadcasting that veganism is “dogmatic,” “arrogant,” unrealistic, not “psychologically sound,” “crazy,” “misanthropic,” and “obsessive,” it is highly unlikely that anyone will acknowledge veganism as an option at all.

How can we “realistically” work for a vegan world without compromising veganism?  I suggest that professionalized organizations are correct to insist that achieving Nonhuman Animal liberation will be a step-by-step process (no one seriously expects the world to go vegan overnight), but it is disingenuous to proclaim that incremental change means promoting anything less than veganism.

The Vegan Outreach strategy entails “meeting people where they are,” but such a strategy is deliberately and strategically non-pressuring and noncommittal. Non-profits attempt to tap into the concern that people already have for Nonhuman Animal suffering to encourage donations. If anti-speciesist representatives are not promoting veganism, and donors are encouraged to donate to help other animals instead of going vegan, when exactly will the interests of other animals be advocated for in such a system?

When I lecture on anti-speciesism in the classroom, the effects of this misconception is sobering. Many of my students enter the classroom believing that “cutting back” or buying “humane,” “organic,” or “cage-free” is the best (or only) response to their concerns for Nonhuman Animal welfare. Advertising campaigns funded by wealthy dairy, “meat,” and birds’ eggs industries have successfully shaped consumer opinion in a way that assuages their guilt and keeps them purchasing the problematic products.  Nonhuman Animal rights organizations should not be in the business of making things easier for exploitative industries. To the contrary,  is their duty to challenge those misconceptions.

 


A version of this essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on January 23, 2013.

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What Are You Doing to Help Animals Right NOW?

Sad looking dog

In this essay, I will deconstruct what people really mean when they pull on what Michele Kaplan calls, “The Urgency.” The urgency of Nonhuman Animal suffering (“RIGHT NOW!”) is exploited as a diversion tactic: no time to think, animals are suffering!  It is a trope that is frequently invoked to silence criticism and maintain the status quo, frequently in response to the following:

  • Critiques of sexism and misogyny in Nonhuman Animal rights advocacy
  • Critiques of racism, normalized whiteness, and white supremacy in Nonhuman Animal rights advocacy
  • Critiques of counterproductive agriculture reforms that protect speciesism
  • Critiques of “happy meat,” “veg*nism,” or other reductionist campaigns

While it may not be their intention, activists drawing on the urgency trope are exploiting the torture and death of Nonhuman Animals to maintain privilege and inequality.  Women, for instance, are frequently shamed for taking issue with rape culture as it is aggravated and perpetuated by misgoynist activism in the Nonhuman Animal rights community.  How dare they distract us when other animals are suffering RIGHT NOW?

When women, in particular, are shamed for voicing their opinions on sexism in advocacy, this trope also pulls on sexist stereotypes that women should put the needs of others first, ignoring their own oppression. Shaming women for caring about themselves has historically been an effective means of countering women’s empowerment and maintaining a status quo of oppression.

For activists who invoke urgency, I suggest that, if they truly do care about other animals suffering right now, it would be advisable to stop castigating marginalized people. A violent movement is not a healthy one. Instead, pay attention to what marginalized persons are communicating, and make an active effort to learn something from it. Doing so makes the movement stronger. I say this because this movement will never succeed so long as women are being discriminated against, people of color are being excluded,  and speciesist reforms remain the preferred tactic of Nonhuman Animal “rights” organizations.

The “Animals are Suffering Right NOW” trope is intended to quell criticism.  It is generally an uncritical diversion from engaging in discourse, preventing activists from examining how they might actually be participating in the oppression they seek to destroy. Before defaulting to the “common” sense of “The Urgency,” activists should consider that, as Kaplan suggests, ” …just because it feels good, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are reaching beyond the choir.” Worse, if problematic tactics get protected as common sense, they could actually be abetting violence.

 

A version of this essay first appeared on The Academic Activist Vegan on August 2, 2013.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the politics of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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