Category Archives: Essays

The “Deserted Island” Vegan Scenario is a Reality for Millions

What’s in a Meme?

When presented with veganism, nonvegans may be understandably curious about the limitations of vegan principles in real-world scenarios and conflicts (“Would you swat a mosquito?”). Sometimes, however, nonvegans present fantastical scenarios to truly test these limits. Perhaps one of the most frequent scenarios employed by nonvegans asks vegans how they might survive if they found themselves on a deserted island.

Top half of meme pictures an island in the ocean and reads, "Next time someone asks you...'What if you were stranded on a desert island, and all there was to eat was animals, would you eat them?"; Bottom half of meme pictures a bounty of fruits and vegetables in a market stall and reads, "Ask them...'What if you lived in civilization where there is an abundance of food of all kinds, would you choose to kill animals for no reason?'"

This particular thought activity makes little sense on its surface. After all, how many of us are likely to find ourselves on a deserted island adrift in the ocean? For that matter, folks in real-world survival situations have been known to engage in all manner of morally questionable behaviors. This includes everything from killing and eating dogs to killing and eating humans. The point is that we may understandably make exceptions to our ethics when we are under extreme circumstances.

Being presented with this variant of the “what if” scenario is something of a rite of passage for many vegans. Accordingly, the vegan community has reclaimed the trope for a laugh.

Picture of a man and a pig on an island; reads: "Then the inevitable happened to Paul"Image from Vegan Chowhound

Real-life Deserted Islands

Although these memes are well-meaning, they provide an interesting example of white and middle-class privilege in vegan claimsmaking. As has been argued by Dr. Breeze Harper, mainstream vegan discourse too often defaults to a post-racial, “colorblind,” or classless approach to outreach efforts. This approach overlooks important demographic differences regarding the applicability or appropriateness of vegan proscriptions for change.

Picture of a distressed woman; reads "I want to go vegan but I keep getting stranded on deserted islands"

In a world still bound by a legacy of colonialism and racism, “deserted islands” of oppressed communities abound. It is a fact that millions of folks in developed and developing countries do live in emergency situations. Food deserts, which disproportionately impact poor persons and people of color, are real-life “deserted island” scenarios. Those living in food deserts experience structural inequalities that make healthy and ethical food choices nearly impossible.

The hypothetical “deserted island” scenario is meant to test the limits of veganism. If one was to find themselves so isolated and limited in resources, would one, lacking any alternative, consider eating something (or someone) that compromised one’s scruples? Yet, for a large section of the human population, this is no thought experiment. Food security is a real-life, on-going, unrelenting emergency.

Subsequently, in order to realize a vegan world, activists must contend with capitalist exploitation, structural inequality, and environmental racism. Those living in society’s”desert islands” do not have the same access and resources as privileged folks living on the “mainland.” Rather than interrogate those who are trapped on figurative islands, activists should support efforts to increase access and affordability.

 

A version of this essay was originally published on December 7, 2013 on The Academic Activist Vegan.


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Readers can learn more about the politics of overpopulation in vegan rhetoric 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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Can Veganism Save the World? This is Hope

Although human relationships with the environment grow increasingly of interest to the scientific community, this same community resists a serious consideration of the role that Nonhuman Animals play in human ecology. In the green discourse, Nonhuman Animals are either objectified or ignored altogether.

As such, the critical exploration of human-nonhuman relationships in the context of climate change and environmental justice is largely relegated to activist scholars. One such researcher is Will Anderson, who’s This Is Hope: Green Vegans and the New Human Ecology presents the first comprehensive book in which Nonhuman Animals are included in the discussion as meaningful agents. Arguably, Anderson’s work acts an environmentally-focused version of Singer’s Animal Liberation. Its central thesis is that environmentalism makes no sense so long as humans persist in their systematic violence against Nonhuman Animals.

“Managing” Nature and Other Animals

The bulk of environmental literature speaks of Nonhuman Animals, not as individuals, but as abstract species categories. When individuals are lost from consideration, any number of injustices can be enacted upon them in the name of “conservation.” This includes “hunting” and lethal “wildlife management.”

In This Is Hope, readers learn how “hunters” artificially remove individuals from the environment to the effect of tampering with evolution. “Hunting” ensures that genes are systematically eliminated from populations in ways that would not otherwise occur naturally. This surely occurs when “hunters” target males, specifically those with larger bodies or more impressive antlers.

Subsequently, humans intentionally create fragile ecosystems that will require human management. The projects of “humane washing” and “green washing” are leveraged by animal exploiters and apologists to justify this forced management. As a result, continued exploitation is abetted while the more ethical (and logical) vegan solution goes ignored.

Environmental Injustice for Other Animals

Anderson’s book offers an extensive overview of how Nonhuman Animals, both domesticated and free-living, are impacted by human activity. This predominately occurs through a process of otherization. The division currently existent between humans and other animals is, as he indicates, socially constructed by humans.

His approach to this thesis is personal. Anderson shares many of his own interactions with various Nonhuman Animal communities and environmental groups to support his claims. Readers learn how Nonhuman Animals matter to the environmental discourse through case studies, research reviews, scientific evaluations of sentience, and the emotional power of anecdotal stories.

There is a discussion of the complexities involved in human and nonhuman oppression. Poverty, ecocide, misogyny, speciesism and other oppressions, he insists, are all interrelated. He also touches on the complexities involved with navigating violence against Nonhuman Animals among indigenous populations.

A fundamental issue of environmental justice for other animals is what Anderson refers to as “neo-predation.” Human predation on Nonhuman Animals is exacerbated because it is based on the increasing human population and its increasing consumption. In simply taking up space, creating noise pollution, laying roads and structural barriers, and introducing invasive species (like cows and crops), humans inflict wide-reaching damage.

A Vegan Ecology

Many significant obstacles to creating a vegan ecology exist. For one, environmentalists are wary to adopt veganism for fear of appearing too sentimental. This problem is one that is faced by many feminized social movements. The nonprofit industrial complex also seems to be at work, since so many professionalized, funding-dependent NGOs dominate the arena of conservation. They are evidenced to stifle radical discourse.

According to Anderson, differing cultural beliefs regarding the environment and Nonhuman Animals means that change-makers have no agreed upon goals. This, in turn, makes collaboration difficult. The nonprofit industry’s hyperfocus on membership and financial support is another complicating factor. “Hunters,” being important funders, enjoy the protection of their interests and a silencing of anti-speciesist ideas. Likewise, professionalized groups generally skirt association with veganism to avoid seeming unreasonable. Finally, the wealth of counter-claimsmaking promulgated by “fur,” “fishing,” and “wildlife management” industries also inhibits progress.

Points to Consider

Empathy

Anderson’s thesis is predicated on his case for the critical importance of “empathy.” However, “empathy” strategies could overshadow the material strategies necessary to truly protect and respect other animals. I would suggest that the logic of social justice and rights may be more effective or should at least be incorporated.

Empathy, while foundational to social justice efforts, could actually maintain human superiority if not buttressed. For instance, feminists do not argue that women deserve recognition and protection only because men should empathize with them. Instead, most feminists insist that women matter because they are sentient beings in their own right who deserve to be free of violence. For some two hundred years, women have rallied to codify this recognition in law and culture. Empathy is important in motivating concern, but I would hesitate to build a theory of social justice on wavering emotional states.

Carnism

Second, Anderson liberally draws on the language of “carnism “coined by Dr. Melanie Joy to describe neo-predation and anthropocentric human ecology. As I have argued elsewhere, “carnism” is a corruption of the more inclusive accurate term “speciesism.” Carnism refers specifically to consuming Nonhuman Animals for food, but a truly vegan approach would recognize that violence against animals entails much more than what humans eat. Animal liberation also extends to what humans wear, how they entertain themselves, and how they exploit other animals for labor, science, and so forth.

Overpopulation

Third, Anderson runs into problems with his focus on human population. He mostly discusses human population growth in the abstract sense, yet it is developing countries where this growth is specifically occurring. Population has largely stagnated or even declined in the West, where individuals have greater wealth and access to social services. Thus, those who politicize human population should be careful to consider just which groups of people are under scrutiny. It is usually the world’s poor and disadvantaged.

People of the Third World bear little responsibility for the destruction and occupation of nature. That responsibility is placed squarely with privileged Western populations. Anderson acknowledges global social inequalities throughout the text, but he, unfortunately, fails to do so in the context of population discussion. Population growth needs to be stopped and reversed, he insists, but exactly how this plan will be implemented goes unexamined. In reality, anti-population growth initiatives violently target poor brown peoples, specifically vulnerable women.

Privilege of Place and Movement

Anderson also suggests that people living in areas in which food must be transported at high cost or in areas that require large amounts of energy for heating and cooling should consider moving. Yet, this is an option generally only available to the socially privileged.

Indeed, a similar shortcoming arises when Anderson suggests that all populations of the world are “uniquely responsible” for the environmental crisis: “There are no exceptions” (303):

Rich and poor, indefensible over-consumers and low-scale consumers, all are drawn into the fray because we each have our varying degrees of impact that require responses. (304)

However, the majority of the world’s human population is so incredibly impoverished that its most pressing responsibility lies in basic survival. Furthermore, Anderson’s narrative of shared responsibility overlooks centuries of Western domination that has manifested this dramatic inequality. Anderson calls for change-makers to adopt “humanity” as their primary identity over nationality, ethnicity, or tribal identification. But, this position overlooks serious social and global hierarchies.

Hope

Although This is Hope repeats many problematic tropes endemic to the vegan movement’s failure to think intersectionally, its merit lies in its faith in change. Veganism, Anderson insists, is the most important means to diminish social inequality and suffering in human and nonhuman societies. For this reason, it remains a vital text in climate change resistance strategies.

A version of this essay was originally published in 2013 on The Academic Activist Vegan.


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 overpopulation in vegan rhetoric in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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Veganism “At All Costs” Costs Animals

As my academic interests have turned to intersections of human and nonhuman inequality, I’ve come to recognize that many entanglements of oppression operate unchallenged within social justice spaces themselves. Unfortunately, the Nonhuman Animal rights/vegan movement presents a rich case study for sexism, racism, sizism, and classism. It also perfectly demonstrates the callous engagement of victim-blaming to protect this violence.

Once confronted with criticisms intramovement violence, many activists react by doubling down on discriminatory attitudes. Others simply ignore the problem altogether. Acknowledging intersectional failure is too often framed as “bad for the cause,” “drama,” or “attention-seeking.” This reaction is almost predictable given that the movement is dominated by those occupying positions of gender, race, body, or class privilege. Subsequently, the notion that veganism should be promoted at all costs, regardless of who it hurts, emerges as the movement mantra.

Violence in anti-speciesism efforts is a political problem. For one, it silences and intimidates existing activists. Silenced and intimidated activists are hardly effective ones. This violence also works to repel newcomers from participating. The strategy of pushing veganism at all costs while ignoring violence in the ranks means that new recruits will enter the movement only to bounce right back out. Worse, they may become victims, too. There is an imperative for activists to get their own house in order before welcoming new participants if the goal is to retain and sustain new vegans. It is even more important if the goal is to undermine violence rather than replicate it.

In The Revolution Starts at Home, activists across the social justice spectrum have observed that accusations of “creating drama” are employed so as to avoid airing a movement’s “dirty laundry.” This strategy is indicative of victim-blaming. By blaming the victim for the structural problems the victim identifies, the activist community attempts to redirect guilt and culpability. For instance, should they point out problems of racism, they are likely to be accused of racism themselves for the audacity of bringing up race in a society that is supposedly post-racial. Women who critique sexist patterns in the movement may be accused of hurting Nonhuman Animals with their selfishness. Victims are made to feel illogical, unreasonable, and insincere as a result. This is, curiously, a defense strategy that vegans themselves face when confronting nonvegans. The irony, however, is lost.

As a tactical matter, oppression cannot be undermined within a social movement community with willed ignorance.  As a philosophical matter, it is simply counterintuitive to proclaim that violence against animals should be combatted “at all costs” while simultaneously failing to address the more accessible suffering of human animals within the community. If the anti-speciesism movement cannot be a safe space for activists, it cannot be a powerful force. Instead, it only contributes to the culture of violence so abhorred by vegans.

The expectation is that presenting a false front of unity and cheerfulness will be more enticing to newcomers. But, again, ignoring the problem does not eliminate the problem. New activists lured under false pretenses are not likely to remain in the long term.

A version of this essay first appeared on the Academic Activist Vegan on December 4, 2013.


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Readers can learn more about the nonprofit industrial complex in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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The Problem with Milk Not Jails

Food Justice and Prison Abolition

The American prison system threatens not only urban communities but extends into rural areas as well. The food justice movement has become increasingly aware of this association and has aligned with other collectives focused on prison abolition. Strategies often entail combatting incarceration by providing employment and economic growth. They hope to accomplish this by reconnecting the community with value-added food production and mindful consumption.

New York-based collective Milk Not Jails is one such initiative. Small farming in the United States has become less and less profitable, while, in contrast, the exploding private prison industry offers many tantalizing opportunities for profit. Milk Not Jails posits that the decline of animal agriculture has encouraged impoverished rural areas to switch from the mass incarceration of Nonhuman Animals to the mass incarceration of people of color. Subsequently, it advocates that communities switch out prisons with more dairies as a measure of resistance. It also engages in heavy community outreach to increase the demand for dairy and sustain the model.

Intersectional Failure

As with many anthropocentric food justice campaigns, Milk Not Jails exhibits a limited intersectional perspective. While Milk Not Jails hopes to alleviate the systematic exploitation of vulnerable lower class communities and communities of color, it does so by bolstering the systematic exploitation of vulnerable nonhumans.

Intersectional failure is a term that legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw applies to situations in which activists prioritize relatively privileged groups in social justice campaigns. Her work, for instance, has examined how the Black Lives Matter movement prioritizes men of color, giving scant attention or leadership opportunities to women of color.

Social movement theory supports Crenshaw’s concerns. Researchers have observed that a lack of intersectional awareness and poor coalition-building decrease a movement’s ability to resonate, gather resources, and reach goals.

Dairy and Environmental Inequality

Milk Not Jails exemplifies this intersectional failure in several ways. First, dairy production (and any Nonhuman Animal production for that matter) is not sustainable. Even localized farming practices create large amounts of waste and pollution. Nonhuman Animals made “livestock” consume massive amounts of water and grain, regardless if they lived on small farms or factory farms.

Climate change is the inevitable result of these farming practices. Indeed, the United Nations has identified animal agriculture as the leading contributor to greenhouse gas, surpassing even that created by transportation. Climate change is an injustice to all of Earth’s inhabitants, but it disproportionately harms vulnerables in the Third World.

Domestically, Nonhuman Animal agricultural operations are usually located in areas of poverty. They disproportionately impact poor whites and people of color who do not have the political power to resist stinky, polluting, dangerous agricultural facilities. Milk Not Jails may be only aggravating this environmental injustice.

Dairy and Colonial Conquest

Second, diets based in Nonhuman Animal products are rooted in a colonialist history. Sociologists have observed that colonial expansion was largely fueled by the desire to expand animal agriculture. This refers not only to the expansion of production but also the expansion of consumption. The traditional diets of many colonized people (such as those living in Asia, Africa, and Latin America) are plant-based. As colonized peoples were absorbed into settler cultures, their traditional diets were undermined and replaced by Western dietary expectations.

As a result, people of color living in the West today suffer the ill effects of animal products dumped on their communities at artificially low prices under the guise of healthfulness. Dairy is especially suspect, as most people of color are lactose intolerant. Biologically, people of European descent are more likely to exhibit the genetic glitch that allows them to consume the breastmilk of another species far past the age of weaning. Given its roots in white settler culture, dairy is promoted as “normal” and “natural” even though most humans cannot safely consume it.

Dairy and Class Oppression

Third, the consumption of dairy (and other Nonhuman Animal products) is directly linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, gout, obesity, and a litany of other serious, life-threatening illnesses. Diet related diseases already disproportionately impact poor persons and communities of color.

Dairy and Species Oppression

Fourth, dairies are themselves prisons. From a vegan perspective, Milk Not Jails truly advocates Nonhuman Jails Not Human Jails. Farmers forcibly impregnate young cows repeatedly in order to produce breastmilk for human consumption. These mothers, still babies themselves, must endure the intense grief and anxiety of separation from their children. Calves are most frequently removed within the first 24 hours and fed on formula so that all of mother’s milk can be redirected to humans.

Today’s cows, due to genetic manipulation, produce about ten times the amount of breastmilk they otherwise would. As a result, about 1 in 4 dairy cows suffers mastitis, a painful infection of the udder.

Although cows live about two decades without human intervention, their bodies become so worn out from dairy production that most are deemed “spent” and sent to slaughter before they reach the age of six. Many of them are too sick and disabled to walk to their death. These victims are termed “downers” and are often pushed to slaughter with forklifts.

Female calves are doomed to the same fate as their mothers. Male calves are jailed in veal crates. Veal facilities typically imprison babies in isolation and darkness. Their diet and movement are restricted to ensure that their muscles remain anemic, underdeveloped, and “tender” for the consumer. Consequently, many babies are too weak to walk to slaughter. Many go lose their sight, wits, and lives before their execution.

Milk Not Jails hopes to bring justice to vulnerable communities. By relying on nonhuman breastmilk to achieve that goal, it demonstrates a critical instersectional failure. By promoting dairy, activists are inadvertently promoting the continued oppression of people of color, peoples of the Third World, lower class persons, and nonhuman persons.

 

A version of this essay first appeared on the Academic Activist Vegan on September 23, 2013.


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

Readers can learn more about intersections of gender, race, and class in vegan politics in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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Should Vegans Have Children?

When it comes to vegans having children, it seems like everybody has an opinion. However, public commentators on the politics of vegan procreation are disproportionately men. This suggests to me that the critique of vegan parenthood may be bound by the patriarchal sexual politics of vegan activism.

As I have published elsewhere, women’s bodies are systematically objectified and exploited for vegan protest in two ways. First, female activists are utilized in degrading protests that highlight their lower status and sexual availability. Secondly, female consumers are targeted and derided as the primary contributors to violence against animals. The disparagement of procreation, I suspect, simply acts as another channel for men’s suppression of female autonomy.

What is Anti-Natalism?

Vegan anti-natalists may oppose procreation on two fronts. First, having children is seen to be morally problematic given the inability for children to consent to be born. This approach also presumes that life inherently entails great suffering at the individual level. Second, anti-natalists argue that it is unfair and unethical to burden the planet further with resource-needy human beings. Although the first argument–that life entails suffering–persists in vegan circles, it is primarily the latter argument–that humans should not burden the earth by multiplying–that predominates in the discourse.

As I explore in my book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights, overpopulation rhetoric frequently operates as code for stereotypical thinking and discriminatory actions against women, specifically poor women of color living in the Third World. Most Western vegans think about overpopulation in “other” countries as abstracted and distant. But women in the movement are reachable and preachable. Subsequently, it is exceedingly common for male movement leaders to chastise their female audiences for considering procreation. Although men certainly exist in activist communities, too, about 80% of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is female-identified. Its leaders are disproportionately male. Thus, the procreation discourse is, by default, mostly men talking to mostly women.

Vegan Sexual Politics

This essay is not intended to delve into the morality of having children. Instead, I want to highlight the explicitly gendered nature of the procreation debate. Although the vegan movement touts bodily autonomy for Nonhuman Animals, it strangely avoids granting the same principle to women. Consequently, women are chastised for wanting to procreate. It is this patriarchal denial of bodily autonomy which I suspect undergirds the vegan anti-natalist position. After all, many men in the radical wing of the movement also chastise women for wanting to abort (which they frame as violence against a vulnerable body).

Although veganism is a movement for animal autonomy, within the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, men maintain institutional and interpersonal control over women’s bodies. Men, who predominate as leaders and influencers, are largely responsible for dictating what is considered appropriate protest behavior. Their anti-natalism rhetoric is simply an extension of this patriarchal control. It also exemplifies men’s perceived expertise on issues not related to or only indirectly related them. Most fundamentally, it demonstrates a patriarchal entitlement to women’s behavior and discourse.

What about Adoption?

Sometimes, vegan anti-natalist opinion leaders tout adoption as an alternative (just as vegans promote adopting dogs and cats rather than purpose-breeding them for companionship). Adoption, of course, is a prosocial behavior and should be embraced and celebrated. Yet, there is an element of objectification in adoption discourse and practice. Adoption is presented as a sort of savior behavior. The adopter class is valorized, while the adoptee class is subjugated and reified.

Furthermore, the exploitative nature of adoption industries is well documented. Many families are forcibly or coercively separated so that corporations and charities can obtain the requisite number of adoptable children. In many social realms, adoption is a highly lucrative industry.

Finally, adoption is a privilege. It is not a form of parenthood that is equally accessible to all. Parenting requires considerable financial investment. The relative poverty experienced by many adults in the 21st century makes adoption untenable. Parenting also entails considerable physical and psychological investment. The capability of meeting these requirements varies considerably.

To procreate? To adopt? These are relevant philosophical questions that social justice movements rightly contemplate. However, the gendered structure in which this discourse takes place must be examined.

 

A version of this essay first appeared on the Academic Activist Vegan on September 23, 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 vegan politics of procreation and gender in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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Pussy Grabs Back: How Feminists Bestialized Politics but Failed Nonhuman Animals

In an article published with Feminist Media Studies, I explore the symbolic application of animal imagery in America’s largest protest to date, the 2017 Million Women March. In the march, women and their allies “bestialized” politics in an attempt to reclaim their animality as an asset rather than a disparagement. In this study, I looked beyond the pink pussy hats to also consider how this bestialization manifested in protest slogans and signage. Not only were cat pictures and costumes prevalent, but protester discourse regularly included plays on words such as, “This pussy grabs back” and “Hear me roar.”

Although feline imagery made for compelling visual protest, I argue that the march ultimately constitutes what Kimberlé Crenshaw might identify as intersectional failure. This finding is not surprising. Throughout the history of Western feminism, the most privileged in the ranks–Western, white, straight, middle-class, cis-gender, human females–have taken precedence over the most vulnerable. The exclusion of Nonhuman Animals is only consistent with the fallibility of feminist solidarity.

 


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Readers can learn more about the politics of vegan feminism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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Civilizing Horses and Travellers in Post-Colonial Ireland

 

Postcolonial Ireland entered the 20th century as a newly minted nation-state hoping to establish itself as a legitimate competitor in the capitalist world system. Having been subjugated under colonial animal agriculture for over four centuries, freedom from British rule would not bring freedom from British influence as Ireland opted to maintain its animal agricultural economy following decolonization in 1920. Not unlike the cows, pigs, and sheeps in their care, Irish humans had themselves been animalized under colonization, a British tactic that heightened as the nationalist movement for home rule became a credible threat. Celtic revivalists sought to reconstruct the Irish as a distinct, noble race in response, even going to far as to depict the Gaelic ethnicity as angelic in appearance and behavior (Curtis 1971). Defining its postcolonial economy by animal agriculture, furthermore, allowed Ireland to underscore its transition from the simian, brutish subhuman status the British had imposed to the civilized European construction of humanity. The Irish were no longer subjects among animals but took the place of the British in ruling over animals. This dominion supported a new national identity.

Concurrently, the animal welfare movement was rising to prominence in the United States and United Kingdom. Its leading tactic, humane education, was predicated on the belief that a society’s degenerates could be shaped into upstanding citizens in learning to care for other animals (Davis 2016). This logic was applied with great gusto to imperial and colonial subjects. Indeed, humane efforts were ultimately a project of civilizing. This project did not bode well for the animalized Irish, who had been relegated to the statuses of mongrels and vermin as they spilled onto American and British soil looking for work and resisted colonial order on their own. Irish immigrants and colonists alike were depicted as unproductive, unredeemable burdens on the state. Much of the early welfare campaigns and humane literature featured the Irish as instigators of speciesist violence who were resistant or even incapable of improvement.

Not surprisingly, then, the Irish state took great interest in humanizing its populace in the eyes of the world. To accomplish this, it emphasized its cultural prowess, economic capability, civility, and very humanity. In the early part of the 20th century, the state also employed an isolationist economic tactic with hopes of raising Ireland to the status of its peers and relieving its dependency on others, investing its resources in the development of Irish agriculture in the process. By the 1950s, this approach had proven a failure, and Ireland began to open itself to commerce in European market. In 1973, it officiated this relationship by joining the European Union. An independent Ireland thus remained under the influence of Great Britain, maintaining the British-imposed and British-benefiting animal-based economy to legitimize itself. It also maintained Britain’s ideological conflation of humaneness with civility. Postcolonial vestiges of animality would put Ireland’s Traveller population, a holdover from the colonial system, at a distinct disadvantage.

Travellers were recognized by the European Union as a unique ethnicity only in 2017. Genetic testing has revealed that Irish Travellers are biologically distinct from the settler population, but they are also distinct from the Roma Gypsies of Europe and America. It is thought that Irish Travellers emerged out of the disastrous famine years in a countrywide strategy for survival. Beginning in the 17th century, colonialists wrested land from the Irish and disrupted traditional property inheritance norms, which would be compounded by a sudden spike in the peasant population made possible by the life-sustaining, hardy, and cheaply produced potato. Famine only exacerbated this precariousness. Hundreds of thousands were evicted from their rented land, and Ireland’s “gypsies” began traveling in search of sustenance and odd jobs. They have been on the move ever since, existing today in the few remaining communal spaces on the literal margins of society. The Travellers’ resistance to the traditional markers of civilization (such as formal education, property ownership, and regular employment) encouraged considerable conflict with the settler community. Eager to prove its membership in civilized Europe, the Irish state took a harsh approach to Travellers in the 20th century, forcing assimilation and enacting policies designed to remove the unsightly and embarrassing Traveller presence that had become an eyesore with its large caravan encampments and raucous activities.

Two of the most damning policies to impact this community was the closing of the commons which transitioned Ireland into the European model of private property, and, relatedly, the 1996 Control of Horses Act which prohibited horses to roam freely. The move to secure horses is especially relevant given that it was couched in rhetoric of public nuisance and animal welfare, much as were the early welfare campaigns of the late 19th and early 20th century that had targeted the Irish. The latent function of the act was the undermining of an important cultural resource in the Traveller community. As Travellers are migrant and do not own land, their ability to keep horses legally under the new law is impeded. Across the country, cities have pushed to ban sulky racing as well, the fast-paced running of horse carts often in busy roads (which only adds to the excitement). The extreme suffering (and oftentimes death) of the nonhumans contenders (frequently young, inexperienced horses who are physically immature) has caused a moral outcry among settlers.

Travellers have responded in fierce protection of their cultural heritage. Horses had been integral to sustaining the community in the 19th century, pulling caravans and acting as economic currency and status symbols. Travellers traded in horses, both live and dead for resale or slaughter. To this day, Travellers are often disparagingly referred to as “knackers” given the importance of horse slaughter and rendering to their survival. More than this, horses were and are integral to their social life. Festivals and get-togethers revolve around horse trading, display, and competition, especially for the men. A machismo culture, the ability to train and compete horses offers a rare opportunity for boys and young men to engage masculine gender roles. Given the extreme discrimination and prejudice that the community faces in modern Ireland, this relationship with horses has become the central avenue for masculine expression. Traditional masculine markers such as successful employment, educational attainment, home ownership, land ownership, and respect in the public sphere are largely unobtainable for Traveller men, necessitating that they innovate through horse culture. The Irish state’s interference with horse ownership subsequently threatens the well-being of Traveller men, who, with a suicide rate three times that of the settler population, are already highly vulnerable. Horses are truly a lifeline for these men.

There is clearly a moral conflict manifest in the role of horses in post-colonial, civility-conscious Irish society, one that might best be addressed by a vegan feminist perspective in acknowledging the disruptive influence of colonialism and its tendency to manifest and inflame race, ethnicity, and species. This perspective explicitly draws attention to nonhuman animals, who, in becoming political symbols in situations of conflict, are relegated to absent referents. Subsequently, there is a need to rejoin horses to the conversation, as well as a need to emphasize that the construction of animality and humanity under colonialization is harmful not only for nonhuman animals, but also marginalized human groups.

 

Works Cited

Curtis, L. 1971. Of Apes and Angels. Smithsonian Institute Press.

Davis, J. 2016. The Gospel of Kindness. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

 

 


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Readers can learn more about the politics of science, race, and speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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Irish Vegan Feminism: Intersections of Sexism, Speciesism, and Resistance in Postcolonial Ireland

In Animal Rights, Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation, David Nibert (2002) suggests that the switch from an egalitarian economic structure to hunting initiated gender distinction such that sexism and speciesism are most accurately recognized as intersecting systems. Ecofeminists, too, have underscored the deep relationship between the objectification, commodification, and oppression of women and other animals (Adams 2000, Gaard 1993), a doctrine that can be described as vegan feminism. Although vegan feminism has been applied liberally to the experiences of women and other animals in the West, it has primarily focused on the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, severely underserving historically oppressed nations which are well positioned to illuminate patterns of intersecting inequality. This essay applies vegan feminist theory to the postcolonial nation-state of Ireland, explicitly recognizing that the historical processes of anthroparchy, patriarchy, and colonialism in collectively shaping its national identity and political economy.

In the era of colonialism, dietary patterns were employed to rationalize and justify conquest and subjugation (Adams 1990). British “beefeaters” thought themselves morally, cognitively, and physically superior as a result of their carnivorous diets, whereas Indian “rice eaters” and Irish “potato eaters” where rendered effeminate and in need of rule. Indeed, Nibert (2013) argues that the colonialist system acted in tandem with the world capitalist economy, satiating the need for new resources and markets. Domestication, or, as he calls it, domesecration, was instituted across various nonhuman species to increase their exploitability. In Ireland, nationalists were keenly aware that Britain’s imposed system animal agriculture was directly tied to the suffering of Ireland’s people vis-à-vis consistent food insecurity and eviction. Others understood it as a means of pacifying and weakening the Irish constitution, advocating vegetarianism as a means of liberation. In fact, many female activists, who themselves felt domesecrated by the patriarchal rule of British colonists and Irish men alike, acknowledged the relationship between nationalism, feminism, and animal welfare. Many (such as Charlotte Despard pictured here) incorporated vegetarianism into their politics (O’Connor 2016).

Charlotte Despard

Somewhat unique for its time, Ireland’s 1916 uprising and eventual independence in 1922 explicitly incorporated feminism and recognized women’s role in manifesting the republic. Entry into the patriarchal nation-state system, however, quickly soured this liberal streak, and, by 1937, Republican feminism had disintegrated into a deeply conservative Marianism. Women were no longer agential comrades, but damsels in distress and angels of the home. Their second-class citizenry became essential to the functioning of the new society, marking Ireland as a country of traditional values but also providing considerable value in unpaid productive and reproductive labor in homes and farms. This shift coincided with the decision to reinforce animal agriculture as the leading Irish industry. Both women and other animals became livestock for the new Ireland. Although the lowered status of women and the economic exploitation of other animals were both symptoms of colonial rule, Ireland opted to rebrand these systems rather than purge them. According to vegan feminist theory, this correlation was not happenstance, but instead a predictable outcome of participation in the androcentric nation-state system. Economic structures based in the oppression of animals are frequently dependent on gender inequality as well (Wrenn 2017), but, as a feminized postcolonial nation, Ireland was itself vulnerable to exploitation from wealthier core countries made powerful by centuries of colonialist practices.

Irish National Dairy Council advert from the 1970s reads "WATCH IT FELLAS! Women are clever. They know the value of Irish cheese. Great Manfood. So watch it! Cheese is manfood!" Shows three women smiling at camera holding plates of cheese.In the decades since, global influences may sometimes challenge Ireland’s hierarchical structure. Incorporation into the European Union, for instance, has improved wages for women and welfare standards for other animals. Western influences have also ushered in more radical developments in feminism, veganism, and anti-globalization ideology. In its bid to remain competitive and culturally distinct, however, Ireland has doubled down on its misogynistic and speciesist policies. Inflexible anti-abortion and divorce policies are pitted as necessary to protect women and Irish tradition, while ever expanding animal agriculture is also hailed as higher welfare and foundational to Irish tradition. That said, as Ireland enters the postmodern era, the negotiation of global citizenship and economic participation increasingly involves a vegan or feminist perspective. In some cases, these epistemologies merge, much as they did at the dawn of the republic at the turn of the 20th century.

Works Cited
Adams, C. 2000. The Sexual Politics of Meat. New York, NY: Continuum.

Gaard, G. 1993. Ecofeminism. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Nibert, D. 2002. Animal Rights, Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation. New York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield.

——. 2013. Animal Oppression and Human Violence. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

O’Connor, M. 2011. The Female and the Species: The Animal in Irish Women’s Writing. Bern, CH: Peter Lang.

Wrenn, C. 2017. “Toward a Vegan Feminist Theory of the State.” Pp. 201-230, in Animal Oppression and Capitalism, edited by D. Nibert. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Press.


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

Readers can learn more about the intersections of species and gender in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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Alternative Medicine, Vivisection, and Scientific Racism

As I have grown more interested in alternative healing over the years, I have dutifully hit the scientific journals to verify if particular products are actually evidenced to work. This is necessary given that the natural healing industry has been known to make all number of unverified promises with little governmental regulation to protect consumers. It has also come under fire for targeting the especially vulnerable (such as sick, disabled, and older persons).

As is more commonly known, many Nonhuman Animals (like rhinoceroses and tigers) are exploited and killed in the production of alternative medicines in Eastern cultures to fulfill fantastical claims, but lesser attention is given to this same systematic oppression in the West. As it turns out, many romanticized natural cures (like essential oils and even salt rock lamps) are examined in gruesome laboratory tests as companies recognize that such tests can add value and credibility to their products. Thus, products may be labeled “natural” and lobbed at alternative lifestyle communities, but it does not follow that the products’ claims are ethically-sourced.

I think it is safe to say that most consumers fail to consider the possibility that their natural care products were developed through the harming of other animals, and when it does come to their attention, it is assumed that any testing is done out of necessity. The vast majority of vivisection, however, does not relate to life-or-death research, but instead serves the medical-industrial complex and has little utility in determining health consequences for humans.

More than a profit-making venture, however, vivisection also relies on white-centric ideologies. In the case of alternative healing, Western science’s deep distrust of all things Eastern or indigenous spawns much of this oppressive animal testing in an effort to “prove” what marginalized communities have known for generations without having to resort to forcing mice to swim to death (to test the impact of a natural supplement on endurance) or decapitating rats to inspect their brains (to measure the influence of exposure to rock salt lamps).

Scientists refer to these cruel, lethal, and unjust tests as “sacrifice,” as though nonhumans were not being tortured or murdered, but were rather offered up in the service of the greater, necessary good by scientists who have no alternative. As a scientist myself, I am deeply committed to the principles of systematic observation, but I also recognize that Western science’s deep-rooted racism automatically de-legitimates the systematic observation already undertaken by non-white, Eastern, and indigenous communities. Should we commit to institutional inclusivity and start lending credibility and dignity to those marked as “other,” we could have science without the sacrifice.


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 science, race, and speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Bystander Effect

Paradoxically, the more people present when there is need for help, the less likely anyone is to help. Social psychologists refer to this as the bystander effect. It happens for at least two reasons. First, people pay less attention to their surroundings in a group setting. Second, people look to others on how to act.

There are conditions under which this effect is lessened. First, if there are no other bystanders, a single person is more likely to notice the situation, not get hung up on the reaction of others, take responsibility, and help. Secondly, in group situations, if one person acts, others are likely to follow suit.

Disrupting the bystander effect is essentially at the root of veganism. Modern society is bound by social norms of speciesism, and the propensity to follow group behavior renders vegan deviance unlikely. People look to friends, family, medical professionals, celebrities, and others to determine appropriate behavior. When that normalized behavior is encouraging society to ignore, hesitate, or refuse to help those nonhumans who suffer and die at human hands, it is then that vegans step in as bystanders to refuse their support and demand justice. If social norms can be fostered that make helping normal, the bystander effect can be thwarted.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Break the spell of bystander effect by acting first
  • Outreach that solicits action should target individuals not in group settings
  • Encourage prosocial group behavior to temper bystander effect

References

Bryan, J. and M. Test.  1967.  “Models and Helping:  Naturalistic Studies in Aiding Behavior.”   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 6:  400-407.

Canter, D. J. Breaux, and J. Sime.  1980.  “Domestic, Multiple Occupancy, and Hospital Fires.”  In D. Canter (Ed.), Fires and Human Behavior.  Hoboken, NJ:  Wiley.

Latané, B. and J. Darley.  1968.  “Group Inhibition of Bystander Intervention in Emergencies.”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 10:  215-221.

Latané, B. and J. Darley.  1970.  The Unresponsive Bystander.  Why Doesn’t He Help?  New York, NY:  Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Schnall, S., J. Roper, and D. Fessler.  2010.  “Elevation Leads to Altruistic Behavior.”  Psychological Science 21:  315-320.

Rushton, J. and A. Campbell.  1977.  “Modeling, Vicarious Reinforcement and Extraversion on Blood Donating in Adults:  Immediate and Long-Term Effects.”  European Journal of Social Psychology 7:  267-306.

 

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.


This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.

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