Monthly Archives: May 2016

If You Care about Animals, In-Vitro Meat is Not the Answer

In Vitro Meat

Posed as the perfect neoliberal solution to relieving speciesism while protecting markets and consumer desires, a number of non-profits have positioned themselves in support of in vitro research in pursuit of “lab grown meat.” However, I am critical of solutions that seek to address the inherent problems of free market capitalism with yet more free market capitalism.

Consider that in vitro meat, while theoretically sparing millions of nonhumans the torture of agricultural industries, completely overlooks the millions of other nonhumans raised in the food system who are not directly slaughtered for their flesh, as well as those who exist outside the food industry altogether. Indeed, the most glaring shortcoming of the in vitro scheme is that it overlooks speciesist attitudes as problematic in of themselves.

In vitro meat purports to meet the supposedly insatiable public demand for Nonhuman Animal flesh (a demand that is, incidentally, artificially controlled by industry) without the guilty conscience of knowing this consumption requires the killing of Nonhuman Animals or considerable environmental pollution. Yet, only a portion of the nonhumans humans exploit are specifically raised for “meat.” In vitro schemes beg the question as to what will happen to nonhumans who are indirectly killed for flesh when their bodies become unproductive in other industries.

Dairy cattle, veal calves, wool producing sheep, layer hens, and racehorses, for example, all go to slaughter when their bodies become “spent” and they become a burden on the industry. Unless dairy and eggs become obsolete, these animals will still be sent to their deaths regardless of in vitro markets.

And what of “leather” and “fur”? In vitro meat does nothing to reduce the demand for animal flesh used for fashion.

What of rodeos, zoos, and circuses? In vitro is totally unrelated.

And vivisection? Not only does in vitro fail to solve the problem of using Nonhuman Animals as test subjects, but it will inevitably require considerable amounts of pain and death to create in vitro meat.

In a nutshell, the in vitro meat scheme ignores speciesism. It ignores an ideology of oppression. Beyond excluding many other facets of animal exploitation, it also condones the consumption and oppression of Nonhuman Animals as a symbolic matter. To “okay” this behavior, even if it is not directly hurting the select few nonhumans represented, is hugely detrimental to the advancement of Nonhuman Animal rights.

Consider a campaign to reduce sexual harassment and violence against women in which non-profits and activists strategically offer blow up dolls or “real dolls” for men to insult, beat, brutalize, or otherwise have their way with. Surely, some women will directly benefit in having the wrongs usually inflicted upon them now inflicted on their non-sentient representations. But, one must consider the symbolic consequences that will inevitably arise in a society that has normalized objectifying, sexist, and violent attitudes towards women. One could not expect that the position of women would be advanced to any significant extent if representations of women (that are actual objects) are made freely available for the privileged to buy, sell, trade, consume, and dominate. Sexism and violence would (and do) continue against women. This happens because such a strategy only supports women’s subjugated status and aggravates their objectification. A society that symbolically normalizes oppression will facilitate actual oppression. That’s common sense.

 

Finished faces wait to be united with their respective Real Doll bodies. Real Dolls is a San Diego based company that makes hi-end silicone sex dolls. The dolls sell for about $7000 each and can be customized to the clients needs. .

Technology has provided a number of substitutes for women’s bodies, but normalizing this desire to own and abuse women has serious consequences for real women are still hurt at epidemic levels in a misogynistic society.

 

If activists are in the business of combating speciesism, then in vitro meat should not be included on the tactical platter. It’s only meaningful relationship to anti-speciesism is its potential to assuage the human guilt that inevitably arises from the unnecessary consumption of sentients. The core concern, that being the rights owed to Nonhuman Animals, is obscured. Incidentally, in vitro meat schemes also ignore the terrible damage that animal products inflict on the health of vulnerable human communities.

This willful obfuscation is a strong indication that in vitro meat is a manifestation of post-speciesism. Post-speciesism supposes that speciesism is a thing of the past, or is otherwise being attended to. Species difference is thus made irrelevant, and systemic discrimination is made invisible by the fantasy. It is an ideology that works to squelch political opposition and the potential for contentious action.

In vitro meat will reduce some violence against some Nonhuman Animals, but it will allow for many other forms of violence. It reproduces the notion that Nonhuman Animals are “food,” and the institutions slaughtering them as such will not realistically end simply because in vitro becomes available. So long as prejudice and discrimination against other animals remains unchallenged, their exploitation and death will continue indefinitely.

Considering the limited nature of activist time and resources, I suggest instead a structural focus that centers the promotion of veganism. The results will be far more socially rewarding: environmental destruction will be reduced, human health will flourish, and, more importantly, Nonhuman Animals will be afforded the equal consideration they deserve. Relying too heavily on scientific and technological advancements to solve social problems could prove disastrous (though they tend to be friendlier to the capitalist interests of non-profits and their funders). In vitro science is a display of domination and privilege with limited cultural potential for achieving social justice.

 

A version of this essay was originally published on The Examiner on July 17, 2012.


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

Readers can learn more about the social psychology 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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Rebuilding and Reusing Rescue Dogs

Rebuilding Dogs

Anti-speciesism theorist Norm Phelps once noted that cat and dog “overpopulation” is a product of capitalism. That is, human society breeds these animals as designer products for purchase. The capitalist system relies on constant production and consumption. Regular disposal to accommodate these requirements is the unfortunate consequence of a capitalist system working as it should be. “Shelters,” then, become the landfill at the end of this production line, artificially sustaining this ultimately unsustainable consumer system.

I have noticed that many well-meaning rescue programs designed to intervene in this system to save lives also run on some rather problematic pro-capitalist ideologies (the Australian show “Give a Dog a Home” is especially relevant here).

First, these are reform-focused social services, and thus do little to challenge the system as it is. The companion animal production line churns on, while rescuers at the end of the line scramble to save the discards.

Second, survivors are extremely vulnerable, as they are frequently valued primarily in their utility to humans. Take many rescue shows, for instance, which boast their ability to “rebuild” “discarded” animals who were “tossed on the scrap heap” and make them useful, working animals. They may be assigned as “truffle dogs,” personal assistants, or entertainers trained to perform demeaning tricks on command. All of this “work” is unpaid and forced without consent, of course.

These survivors are framed as grateful to be both alive and “useful,” and no one questions the system that created their violent circumstances in the first place. Nor can anyone seem to imagine a future where other animals have a right to life independent of human wants. In this way, rescue animals remain products in a pro-capitalist system. To me, these programs are disturbingly similar to “trash-to-treasure” home makeover shows.

Why not allow cats and dogs to exist (in the words of animal law scholar Lee hall) on their own terms? Only in a capitalist society is one’s right to exist wholly dependent upon one’s productivity in the economy. This is a fundamentally problematic and unjust approach. Switching out designer dogs for “shabby chic” mutts and reject pure-breds who have been successfully “retrained” supports a post-speciesist ideology. Our goal should not be to “reduce, reuse, and recycle” Nonhuman Animals, but rather to liberate them from systems of human oppression.

 


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

Readers can learn more about the problems of vegan capitalism 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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Named 2015-16 Recipient of Graduate Student Research Excellence Award, CSU Dept. of Sociology

ColoradoState

I am so grateful and pleased to announced that I have been selected as the 2015-16 recipient of the Graduate Student Research Excellence Award by the Department of Sociology at Colorado State University. In addition to acknowledging my academic publications and research on Nonhuman Animal rights activism and diversity in anti-speciesism spaces, the awards committee notes, “your ability to convey your scholarship through more public outlets is the epitome of the best of public sociology.” I am very touched that my online scholar-activist work (this blog included) has been recognized as sociologically important! Having defended my PhD in January, I will be graduating and sadly parting ways with CSU this May after eight years of studies and service.

 


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