Tag Archives: Anti-Racism

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.


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. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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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.


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

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

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Animal Abolitionism, a 19th Century Holdover

The desire to totally liberate other animals from human oppression is generally thought a product of late 20th century imagining. In today’s capitalistic  movement, activists and organizations scramble to specialize and copyright their particular brand of activism, often to the effect of invisibilizing a rich activist history.

In researching for my new book on factional debate in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, I noticed that, while the abolitionist faction seems to have developed as a distinct collective in the 21st century following the energizing work of the late philosopher and activist Tom Regan, the very arguments that distinguish it were developed much earlier in the 19th century.

The abolitionist approach to Nonhuman Animal rights probably originates from its appropriation of tactics and rhetoric associated with the antislavery movement. Early vegetarian reformers were deeply involved in anti-slavery efforts, even positioning vegetarianism as a means of ending slavery. In fact, the term “abolitionist” itself is usually traced to this hugely influential movement. Like other movements against oppression, the anti-slavery cause was divided over whether or not to advocate for complete abolition or abolition-oriented gradual reforms.

Anti-slavery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison considered many anti-cruelty and vegetarian activists as colleagues, and abolitionist papers reported on vegetarian events. These early reformers also supported women’s suffrage, and explicitly encouraged women to speak at vegetarian conferences. Vegetarian suffragettes also made the connection that ending animals’ oppression was the key to ending women’s oppression.

Although born of an intersectional past, abolitionism would gradually detach as the Nonhuman Animal rights movement gained momentum. For anti-speciesists of the late 19th century onward, abolitionism referred almost exclusively to nonhumans. Regardless, the belief that the oppression of Nonhuman Animals should be abolished rather than modified or reformed is a concept that is as old as is the movement. Heated debates between welfarists and abolitionists in the early years of the SPCA in England and the AHA in America are recorded in meeting notes. Frances Power Cobbe and other antivivisectionists, enraged by reformist legislation that effectively legitimized and protected vivisectors, explicitly identified as abolitionist. Even Donald Watson and the early vegans were abolitionist, regularly lambasting welfare reforms in early issues of The Vegan.

Today’s abolitionism as was developed by Regan, then, is merely one wave of many. It is a shame that Post-Regan abolitionism has completely diverged from its early connection to anti-racism and anti-sexism, but it is heartening to rediscover this legacy of compassion and refusal to compromise.

 


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

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Tim Wise Anti-Racism in Education Workshop

Corey Wrenn and Tim Wise Monmouth University 09-21-2015

Today I had the amazing privilege of attending a 5 hour education workshop with the esteemed Tim Wise at Monmouth University. During lunch, I was able to discuss with him one-on-one some of the patterns of white privilege and systemic racism I’ve been researching in the Nonhuman Animal rights / vegan movement. In particular, I shared with him the reactions experienced by anti-racist vegan leaders like Dr. Breeze Harper of the Sistah Vegan Project, Aph Ko of Aphro-ism, and Sarah K. Woodcock of The Abolitionist Vegan Society. While he was shocked at the push back they receive, he was also not surprised having come up against the wrath of the white-centric movement himself in the past. I was glad for the opportunity to build movement connections with one of my favorite activists.

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