reflections

The place that took their breath away

PGS7fd2_03gToday outside the slaughterhouse, I saw lungs on the ground. When the slaughterhouse workers saw those lungs, they saw trash. They saw something that could not be neatly packaged. They saw something that would reveal to shoppers that meat comes from someone who fought for every last breath, because they wanted to live, but whose life was stolen from them. They saw those lungs as trash and they tossed them outside, onto the grass. There were body parts everywhere, next to a river that was beautiful before it was poisoned by death.

Our first action when we are born is to inhale. This means that we are alive. We no longer depend on our mothers to give us everything (oxygen, food, water) through our umbilical cord, our lifeline. The last thing that we do when we die is exhale. Our lives are bracketed by breath.

Industry saw trash in those lungs. I saw theft. Vitality and life and hope stolen from someone who wanted to live just like us. We animals all breathe the same air, and we all need to be free.

 

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reflections

Love: Living and letting live

Today is Valentine’s Day, a holiday with so many meanings. A Hallmark day when we are expected to buy objects to demonstrate our love. (U.S.-ians spend $200 billion per year on this holiday, an average of $130 per person.) A pagan holiday Christianized and commercialized like all the others. We must buy chocolate, a substance with so many human and nonhuman rights abuses that a child slave described it as his “flesh.” Roses and other flowers grown offshore by the millions, tended by women working in sweatshop conditions. Jewelry made from precious stones and metals torn from the earth by slaves, an industry that leaves toxic scars in its wake.

Valentine’s Day can be so much more than this. A day for friendship, to share with those who don’t have or choose not to have romantic partners. To share love and solidarity with mothers who have lost their babies to illness or violence. For our friends who do have romance in their lives but whose sweethearts allow space for lovers and fighters of all sorts.

I don’t know what love is, but I know what it’s not.

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Photo taken by my friend Beth Kancilia in her local grocery store, Wegman’s. I can’t imagine this packaging making sense even to an animal-eater. Is someone going to give this heart-shaped flesh as a Valentine’s Day gift? 

Breeding and raising someone so you can kill them (is the term mercenary only for humans?) and turn their flesh into a commodity is not and never will be love. Even if you package it into heart-shaped boxes like these. Even if you treat them so, so kindly during their life.

When they were alive, they had muscles. Tongues to lick their babies and clean themselves. Legs to walk where they wanted. Ears to cock toward the sounds of threats or friends. And in death we’ve taken these tools of autonomy and survival and turned them into “meat.”

Today we can make the choice to give all animals (nonhumans and human workers) back their bodies. We aren’t entitled to cheap commodities at their expense. Instead, we can pour our feeling and talent into handmade, homemade cards and gifts. Our relationships aren’t worth a dollar amount. Couples spend less on on Valentine’s Day as they stay together longer… let’s take a lesson from our elders: Quality time is the greatest gift.

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reflections

Guest Post by Chelsea Dub on World Vegan Day/Autistics Speaking Day

Chelsea Dub: I am an art student currently studying animation and painting at Ball State University. Through my art, I attempt to challenge society’s perceptions of marginalized communities—including other animals—as well as explore the intersections between issues such as ableism, sexism, and speciesism. Read more about Chelsea’s work here.

Stairway to Dissonance

“Stairway to Dissonance” by Chelsea Dub

Content warning: animal abuse, autistic abuse

November 1st was World Vegan Day, and also Autistics Speaking Day, so as a vegan who is also autistic, this day holds extra significance to me. In our anthropocentric and ableist society, the voices of other animals and the voices of autistic people are routinely ignored, silenced, and even hijacked. Although certain people are assumed to be “voiceless,” for those paying attention, communication comes in various forms. Animals who are exploited communicate their distress and resistance very plainly: they scream, cry, kick, growl, whimper, howl, hiss, bite, peck, flinch, squirm, try to run, swim, or fly away, pace, or shut down and refuse food and water, withdrawing completely as they attempt to render themselves invisible and therefore untouchable by their oppressors.

Not only are other animals silenced, but their voices are often hijacked in order to promote interests that conflict with their well-being. In blood sports, fake animal calls that either mimic potential mates or distressed baby animals are often used to lure unsuspecting animals to their deaths. Human voices are also dubbed over animals in food commercials so that they appear to be complicit in their own consumption. Grieving mothers become California “happy cows,” and chickens yearn to become Burger King “chicken fries.” Smiles are drawn on animals’ faces in order to depict their exploitation and slaughter as carefree, desirable experiences. Other animals may be robbed of their voices quite literally by being debarked, debeaked, demusked, declawed, or having their tails docked.

Autistic voices are also varied, and we communicate using speech, nonverbal vocalizations, body movements, sign language, text, art, or augmentative and alternative communication. Our voices are repeatedly ignored over the voices of neurotypical parents, teachers, media representatives, antivaxxers, researchers, therapists, psychologists and other autism “experts,” celebrities, and multi-million dollar organizations such as Autism $peaks. The autistic experience has been repeatedly defined by those who observe it by the sidelines, but who have never actually lived it. Oftentimes, these people who observe from the sidelines refuse to even consider our actual experiences, and then have the nerve to say that we are “voiceless.” Those who utilize non-normative forms of communication are often expected to assimilate. Autistic children who flap their hands as either a form of stimming (self-stimulatory behavior), or to communicate their emotional state, are taught to “quiet” their hands so that they do not disturb their neurotypical peers. Even though alternative forms of communication exist, some autistic children are still expected to learn and acquire speech exclusively, which may delay or hinder their ability to effectively communicate their needs. Autism $peaks, which has no autistic people on its board of directors or in positions of leadership, continually ignores autistic voices while giving a sinister voice to autism itself through its horrifically ableist “I am Autism” video.

In neurotypical-led discussions about autism, autistics labeled as “high-functioning” are disqualified for not being autistic enough to talk about autism, while autistics labeled as “low-functioning” are disqualified for being too autistic to talk about autism. In either instance, autistic people are conveniently left out of the discussion. In order to gain publicity and donations in our name, our lives are painted as tragic and destructive. We are either objects of pity, or objects of resentment. Similarly, other animals are damned as either wanted commodities, or unwanted pests.

One of my earliest memories is from when I was nonverbal as a small child. While I can speak reasonably well now, I was speech delayed (a common autism trait). The daycare I was in at the time was abusive (one of the memories that has stuck with me is of the daycare employees giving us adult-sized cups without lids, and then calling us “stupid” for spilling them). I was fully aware of my situation, but was unable to effectively communicate it to my parents through speech. One day, in the daycare parking lot, I burst into tears and desperately tried to tell my parents about the abuse that was going on in the daycare. I remember knowing what I wanted to say, yet being unable to form the words. My parents frantically asked me “What’s wrong?”, yet all I could manage were scrambled syllables and cries. Despite my inability to use speech, I had communicated to my mom that something was wrong, and I never set foot into that daycare again.

Non-speaking does NOT mean unfeeling or unthinking. On this World Vegan Day and Autistics Speaking Day, please consider the voices of both nonhuman beings and autistic people. As Arundhati Roy once said, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

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guest posts, reflections

Guest Post by Tori Lion: On Disrupting Temple Grandin

Tori Lion is a committed vegan activist, artist, and academic living in Toronto, where she engages in community organizing with Toronto Pig Save and its sister organizations, Toronto Cow Save and Toronto Chicken Save. She identifies as part of the mad, autistic, and queer communities. She uses her creative works to instill ecological awareness and compassion for other animals.

Most parents of autistic girls hope that their daughters will grow up to be like Temple Grandin. Animals have enchanted me since before I remember anything, and I think that my mother must have imagined me politely shaking her hand one day, perhaps over hors d’oeuvres following a standing ovation in a crowded lecture hall. Among my presents for my twelfth birthday was one of her books, Animals in Translation. That was before I grew into who I am now, a lesbian who goes to slaughterhouses every week to lay my hands on the bodies of Dr. Grandin’s victims. I stroke their curls and watch as they struggle for the water bottles carried by my activist friends and I. My hands have been covered in the filth that coats every inch of their skin. In spite of their terror, they come to know me by running their catlike tongues over my fingers, by nibbling my mittens in the winter. The intimate senses have largely been maligned by Western philosophy, but I know the truth at least partly because of them.

Perhaps Dr. Grandin and I are similar because we both became who we are among the carnage of the stockyards. Traumatized and alienated from myself as a result of years of repression, I was invited to bear witness to cows awaiting the death machines one morning in January some time ago, and I never looked back. However, unlike Dr. Grandin, I knew that my community members and allies were those who looked out at me with bewilderment from behind metal slats, who mirrored my vulnerability and exchanged affectionate touch with me. The stench of their surroundings puts me in mind of skies blackened by ashes of bodies like mine gassed and incinerated as the culmination of eugenics projects; I wonder, do such thoughts ever occur to Dr. Grandin as she arrives at her places of work? She claims that she doesn’t have an unconscious, and she conveniently denies the animals she murders the ability to hear the screams from underground. I imagine that not being afflicted by the turmoil of the mind must make doing her job a lot easier. As someone cohabiting their location at the margins of normalcy and reason, I see my reflection in the wildness of animals; rather than acknowledging this, Dr. Grandin’s work is saturated with the language of eliminating resistance, of rendering her victims docile so that they can better fulfill their role as units of production. From her position on the catwalk, looking down with the gaze of mastery over nature, Dr. Grandin sees her victims blending smoothly into her machines. I am increasingly overcome with a burning desire to let Dr. Grandin know that she is wrong.

When Dr. Grandin makes a visit, I refuse to politely shake her hand. I take the stage with her, carrying a sign reading, “KILLING THE UNWILLING: NEVER HUMANE – GO VEGAN!”, which is promptly pulled from my hands. “Don’t believe the happy lie, animals do not want to die!”, I shout. “It’s not food, it’s violence!” I point at Dr. Grandin, yelling, “I’m autistic and I try to save animals from her every day!” Being dragged away by security, I’ve never felt simultaneously so ecstatic and so overwhelmed. Upon leaving the University of Guelph campus, I repeatedly yell, “I did it! I did it! I did it!”, out of breath. The release of energy is good and necessary.

The protesters occupying the lawn and sidewalk resume chanting, and I join them. Waiting within the walls of an academic institution built upon animal exploitation, the truth could be heard coming in from outside, much to the annoyance of Dr. Grandin, who ran outside to argue with my friends. A powerful feeling of joy had rushed through me. I knew that we were going to invade and crush down the walls of speciesism and crush down the walls of her slaughterhouses; she and her meatpacking audience could no longer be safe in there.

Dr. Grandin, I do not want to resemble you when I am an old woman. I look forward to further embracing my own animality, to use the words of pattrice jones, rather than learning to dispose of the animals who I claim to “love.” I don’t think that you could have predicted who I would become. I don’t think that you have been challenged before. Is that why you seemed so unsure of how to respond to me?

A large chalk drawing of Joshua the calf that Tori made on the sidewalk next to a Starbucks franchise in downtown Toronto as part of the International Day of Action Against Starbucks.

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reflections

Vegan Options Are Not Animal Liberation (for DxE)

Main post is on the Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) blog, which features pieces from many passionate and thoughtful animal liberationists living all over the world. 

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A well-known animal advocacy organization recently produced and published a humorous video gently mocking vegan consumerism. Widely shared and discussed by members of the vegan community, the video could have functioned as a viral advertisement promoting Whole Foods, and might as well have been produced by Whole Foods’ own robust marketing department. While satirical, the video does highlight some real limitations of how the animal rights movement is often framed.

In the video, entitled “29 Thoughts Every Vegan Has at Whole Foods,” a young white man in his early thirties is shown on the telephone with his friend, saying that he is going to drop into Whole Foods to pick up some coffee. The next minute and a half of the video consists of him meandering about the grocery store, admiring produce and ogling various corporate goods. Mysteriously, he manages not to meander into any department that sells animal products— even though the chain generates $2.4 billion in meat sales and sells millions of animal bodies each year. He is so enthralled by the “vegan options” in the store that he selects and buys several products that he says he doesn’t even need.

The video succeeds in painting vegans as class-privileged, frivolous, shallow consumerist yuppies, rather than activists fighting for total animal liberation. This is a systemic problem in the animal rights movement, which tends to celebrate vegan options and treatment-centered reforms that in some cases strengthen industry by quelling criticism of animal slaughter. Judging by how he was depicted, the man in the video might not have been an ethical vegan or cared about animals at all. He gave no attention whatsoever to animal advocacy, only the consumer choices in front of him. The video did not educate about violence against animals, discourage buying animal products, or invite food justice activists who care about affordable healthy food access into our movement, which is often plagued by the myth that buying expensive specialty foods is necessary to eat a plant-based diet.

Some animal advocates will respond to these words with some feelings of frustration, saying that being vegan is taking direct action for animals. And while eschewing animal products is certainly the moral baseline, because eating animal products is not ethical, it is only the beginning. All we are doing, in being vegan, is preventing a few more dollars from going into the pockets of animal agriculture. Our impact on weakening the system is negligible. Each of our independent consumer choices little impact on animal agriculture.

This article isn’t about boycotting Whole Foods. Most people don’t live in an area that has an all-vegan grocery store, and vegan grocery stores, if they do exist where we live, often don’t have all of the staples that we need and often are more expensive than their not-exclusively-vegan counterparts. So while supporting all-vegan businesses is admirable, that’s not our request.

Vegans must always keep in mind that a corporation or restaurant that is “vegan-friendly” may not be “animal-friendly.” A steakhouse or a dairy ice cream parlor could be “vegan-friendly” if it offers a vegan meal or ice cream flavor that vegan humans can buy and eat. But just because a place has “vegan options” for your consumer pleasure doesn’t mean that it does not perform acts of tremendous violence and exploitation to nonhuman animals. Don’t let the halo effect of those swanky vegan options pacify you and prevent you, a human with a voice, from speaking out against violence and remembering that veganism is but one part of liberating animals.

Because we are only 2% of the population, our boycott has a limited impact and doesn’t even rescue animals from death. We must empower and educate others. Many of us have only begun to participate in the lifelong and multistep process of animal liberation:

  1. Boycott (refuse to financially support industries that exploit animals for food, clothing, entertainment, research).
  2. Disrupt speciesism (speak out to stop violence against animals).
  3. Save lives (by financially and physically supporting animal sanctuaries and fostering or adopting animals ourselves, so the survivors of these systems of exploitation can live lives free from violence).

Animal advocates should always center their actions and rhetoric around the plight of the animals, and their stories of both oppression and liberation. The video, though it was produced and published by an animal advocacy organization, did not even mention the exploitation of animals. Animal liberationists aren’t doing this work because the food is tastier or the clothes are more fashionable. We do this because nonhuman animal voices are silenced, and because we are liberationists fighting for human and nonhuman self-determination, bodily autonomy and justice.

Whole Foods, and other animalmongers that market themselves as green, ethical, compassionate companies, do not care about animals. Whole Foods cares about profit, whether the dollars they are generating come from vegans or animal eaters; so, they engage in expensive and complex humanewashing to deceive us all. We as a movement should be aware of how vegan consumerism and non-animal-centered messaging bolster Whole Foods’ reputation and play into their bloody hands.

Learn more about why DxE is targeting Whole Foods in our latest campaign.

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reflections

Guest Post by Anatha Hurwitz: Chicks – On the Devaluing of Young Women and Baby Chickens

Anatha Pearle Hurwitz, an organizer for Portland Animal Liberation and a contributor to Sister Species Solidarity, asks us this question: How did “chicks” become embedded in our language as an oppressive term to objectify women? And how does this oppression connect to violence against nonhuman animals? 

Many women feel it is sexist to be called a “chick.” Immediately this word conjures images of yellow baby chickens.

Baby chickens in Western culture are represented as alliterative symbols of sweet springtime renewal, while they are tortured and murdered as consumable bodies by the food industry. Similarly, women are often culturally represented as embodying a sweet, childlike innocence, while they are brutalized as consumable bodies within a system of male supremacy.

“Chick” has long been American slang referring to a young woman and even has roots in patriarchy. The first recorded example of women referred to as “chicks” occurs in the 1926 American satirical novel Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis: “He didn’t want to marry this brainless little fluffy chick.” From this first usage in popular culture, we see baby chickens and young women both associated with stupidity. Bird-brained. Prior to this the term referred to children, as far back as the 17th century, and several modern dictionaries retain this definition. Referring to women as children implies they require supervision and control, an idea that is central to male domination.

Propagating the chicken/woman analogy enables a culture to devalue womanhood, particularly feminine womanhood. It’s everywhere: in pornography, television, movies. Because of this, the analogy is widely used by young men. The comedy video website Funny Or Die features an article titled “7 differences between women and chicks.” In it the male author contrasts what he sees as respectable women with “chicks,” or poor, promiscuous, air-headed, naive, petty, gossipy individuals with ridiculous aspirations, who “will probably fuck you,” who are not even women.

The sexist and fatphoic slogan “No Fat Chicks” has been used on countless bumper stickers and dating sites. Last year French car hire service Uber was forced to cancel its promotion offering men a free 20-minute ride with an “incredibly hot chick.” This year an Iowa politician was forced to apologize after calling his female opponent a “chick.” On the English as a second language website Antimoon, one woman writes, “How dare guys call us ladies ‘chicks!’ How can women ever be compared to chicks which are stupid little birds?”

Then there are “chick flicks.” These movies denote romantic comedies of little to no artistic value, which film production companies market primarily to young women. Even book publishers which focus on love stories have been labeled “chick lit.” Films thought of as chick flicks usually have poor acting and predictable story lines. Our cultural designation of women- and girl-centric films as chick flicks is an outgrowth of how patriarchy sees women as ridiculously emotional and lightheartedly frivolous; it reflects a deep-seated hatred of women.

The first films considered chick flicks were 1950s melodramas which were universally shunned by film critics, and this continued with teenage girl movies. Within a male-dominated society, chick flicks stand in contrast with what are deemed the great cinematic works of film history. Nevertheless film studios have made fortunes from these films, which in turn reproduce the associations between young women and inanity. Perhaps nowhere else in the analogy do we see “chick” more often used to describe a lack of substance. For example, the website My Pick Flick allows users to rate whether a film is a ‘man movie’ or a ‘chick flick.’

So who benefits from baby chickens being used to describe stupidity and worthlessness? With an estimated yearly revenue of $29bn, Bloomberg Business says 2014 was the most profitable year ever for the U.S. poultry industry.

From McDonald’s to Subway to Chick-fil-A to Chipotle: the capitalists who run these profitable food enterprises rely, in fact depend upon, an ideological justification for the murders of 9 billion chickens and for the use of 400 million hens for their eggs. Male chicks whose reproductive systems cannot be exploited by the egg industry are thrown in trash bags (or ground up alive) and female chicks’ beaks are seared off with a hot blade.  More chickens are slaughtered for their flesh than all other land animals together. Their enslavement is indispensable to business.

These industries need an ideology to spread, in order to support such outstanding violence.

If this culture viewed chickens as the bright, complex, powerful beings that they are, capable of dreams and empathy, the food industry as it stands could collapse. And if this culture viewed women as beings worthy of social values which respect us, patriarchy would collapse.

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reflections

Pro-choice is not anti-vegan

I submitted the below piece to the bimonthly zine, Sister Species Solidarity. I had never heard of the zine before, but it’s now on my feminist/animal liberationist reading list and I eagerly await the next issue. Creating knowledge and discussion outside of the realm of academia is important work, and I’m glad that the editors prioritize the voices of women and people targeted by sexism. There’s no pandering to male allies for the sake of “diversity and inclusion.” This issue’s theme was Bodily Autonomy, so I wrote about reproductive justice and abortion access. Enjoy! 

People often ask me, why are you pro-choice? (They will often ask me why I am pro-abortion, and why I care so much more about the lives of chickens, pigs, and cows than unborn humans.) They say that they are pro “all” life, that they don’t think terminating a fetus can possibly be consistent with vegan ethics of causing least harm.

First of all, I’m not pro-abortion. I’m pro-choice, which is an entirely separate framing of reproductive justice. If someone wants to carry a pregnancy to term, they should be able to do so. Every sentient being should be trusted to decide for themself when is the right time to start and build a family, and which kind of family they want to build. Single parents, teen parents, low-income parents, disabled parents, queer/trans parents, parents of color, etc. need support and resources that suit their families’ needs, not shaming.

The difference between a human uterus haver* and a hen is that the human can consent to having a fetus removed (one who is seeking an abortion is specifically asking for that), whereas the hen (lacking the ability to communicate with us humans) can’t consent to having her egg taken. The human and the hen both deserve the right to bodily autonomy and self-governance. Eggs aren’t just “lying around” – if you crack an egg open for a hen they will gobble it right up.

If you want to reduce abortion rates, which is a noble endeavor, the way to do that is comprehensive sexual education, accessible and affordable birth control and sexual health services, and resources and support such as parental leave and childcare support so that people feel like parenting is a feasible choice for them. Forcing a person to carry a child to term and then to keep that kiddo or give them up for adoption doesn’t sound like respecting someone’s bodily autonomy to me.

Also, it would be super if we could talk about not eating the bodies and secretions of other animals without being misogynist toward humans. Eating eggs (for instance) is wrong because taking something that belongs to someone else without their consent is wrong, not because women and periods (and therefore eggs) are gross.

*I am using the clunky phrase “uterus-haver” rather than “woman” because not all women have uteruses (think of trans women, or women who have had a hysterectomy) and not all people who have uteruses are women even though they may still be able to become pregnant (think of trans men or genderqueer or nonbinary female-assigned people.) Access to family planning care and abortions when needed is a reproductive justice issue for people of all genders.

**I will acknowledge one hole in my argument for reproductive justice. I do support spay/neuter programs for domesticated animals. I think it just to ask the question of why I would, when I absolutely oppose the control of reproduction for any human who is capable of consenting to their own reproductive decisions. The compromise with spay/neuter programs for domesticated animals is because we live in a world that is violent to nonhumans and that has exploited them at every turn for millenia. I believe that nonhuman animals are here for their own purposes and do not exist for us to use. At the same time, I wish to avoid causing them harm to the greatest extent that I can. I believe that on the grand scheme of things, not spaying/neutering animals (e.g. dogs and cats) will cause them to reproduce with one another which will ultimately cause more violence to their offspring in this speciesist society.

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