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Posts Tagged ‘animal rights’

Alessandra and I first met virtually, tweeting back and forth and following each other’s vegan lifestyle blogs. It didn’t take long to realize we have a lot in common: Alessandra currently attends my alma mater (Vassar), and she is also a passionate ethical vegan. Since we were officially acquainted a few months ago at the Marti Kheel Ecofeminist Conference at Wesleyan University, I got to meet the truly compassionate, ethical, tough-minded and kind woman behind the glorious high raw vegan cuisine and vegan commentary Alessandra posts regularly on her fantastic blog Farmers Market Vegan.

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Meeting the wonderful Alessandra Seiter at the Marti Kheel Ecofeminist Conference at Wesleyan University.

Alessandra’s post today discusses her views on the importance of taking a stand against animal abuse, and how important it is to be outspoken when it comes to flippant, non-vegan-friendly, animal-exploitative, politically incorrect remarks from non-vegans.

The ability to deal with non-vegan criticism can make-or-break someone’s commitment to a vegan lifestyle. I’ve known plenty of aspiring vegans who have caved to pressure from family, society, partners, friends. It’s not always easy to break free from expectations from those close to us or from society at large, and I commend Alessandra for approaching the topic from a place of understanding.

Drawing parallels between oppression against animals and against other groups, Alessandra suggests that vegans who “speak” for animals who are voiceless are often treated in hostile ways and that this should not be tolerated. I am so grateful she agreed to write a post for Queer Vegan Food, and I think her choice of subjects is incredibly relevant to the topics frequently discussed in this blog, including looking at interconnected oppressions, and how identity politics play a role in our vegan lifestyles.  Alessandra’s guest post is thought-provoking on many levels and I know you’ll find it as enriching as I have.

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Guest Post: “Yes, I Do Find That Offensive”

By Alessandra Seiter

Back in my junior year of high school, on a bitingly cold day in the dead of winter, I and twenty-some classmates shivered and chattered our teeth whilst our teacher lectured at the front of one of many rooms in the school that boasted a broken radiator. Glancing toward the back of the room, I noticed in outrage that a slightly ajar window invited even more freezing air to permeate our veritable igloo of learning, and promptly scurried to shut it. However, after struggling by my lonesome to yank the window closed, I had to enlist two of my fellow classmates to aid me in carrying out the deed, which inspired my teacher to interrupt his own lecture with a flippant, “Oh, just eat a steak, Ali. Then you’ll be strong enough to close a window by yourself.” Nevermind that the awkward angle of the window rendered it difficult to enact enough leverage upon it to close it; nevermind that the subzero temperature had partially frozen the windowpane into its frame; nevermind that most of the rest of the class couldn’t close the heavy windows single-handedly, either. No, my teacher decided to pinpoint my veganism as the cause of my supposedly unique frailty, and even deemed it necessary to do so in the form of a pronouncement to a large group of students.

“Oh, just eat a steak, Ali. Then you’ll be strong enough to close a window by yourself.”

Granted, this particular teacher often made lighthearted jokes about his students, such as when he asked my friend, clad in a vest of white lace, if she planned on attending a tea party later that day. When she responded, “No, why?”, he followed with, “Well, I’m just confused as to why you’re wearing a doily.” Teacher grins, friend blushes, classmates giggle, and lesson resumes without much incident. However, even though our teacher never intended for his insouciant comments to seem malicious, nor did anyone usually interpret them as such, his infamous steak comment left me feeling quite belittled, discriminated against, and even attacked. Did he really have to perpetuate the stereotype of vegans as protein-deficient weaklings to further disenfranchise a compassionate, conscious lifestyle? Didn’t he understand that veganism comprised an integral aspect of my identity, rendering me utterly incapable of and opposed to abandoning the vast majority of my beliefs and values by “just eating a steak”?

Didn’t he understand that veganism comprised an integral aspect of my identity, rendering me utterly incapable of and opposed to abandoning the vast majority of my beliefs and values by “just eating a steak”?

Would he have ever made a similar remark, just as demeaning to one’s steadfast moral system, toward someone for their religious beliefs of any other underrepresented identity? In response to my own three rhetorical questions above: 1.) I remain fully certain that my teacher didn’t regard his steak comment as derogatory of a legitimate ideology, but simply as a playful jab at my petite figure. 2.) No, he almost definitely misconstrued veganism as merely a set of dietary habits existing independent of ethics or social justice. 3.) Absolutely not, but considering his aforementioned assumed misinterpretation of a vegan lifestyle, he wouldn’t have considered veganism as a touchy subject deserving the use of politically correct language—in other words, he probably viewed my decision to become vegan as just as arbitrary as that of my friend to wear a lacy vest, and thereby just as harmless a subject of his blithe derisions.

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I experience less extreme, yet just as upsetting, instances of this widespread failure to understand veganism as an intrinsic element of one’s character quite often in my everyday life. For example, the non-vegans with whom I dine (aka, most of my eating companions) seldom ask if I would feel uncomfortable if they consumed animal flesh and secretions around me. Additionally, my aunt recently told me about the successful Christmas party she hosted, emphasizing the enormous platter of various fish and shellfish that she served to her delighted guests, and became rather offended when I reacted with less enthusiasm than she expected. While home from college for winter break, my mother requested that I help her prepare appetizers for a holiday party that she and my father planned to attend later that night—appetizers in which she insisted upon featuring goat’s milk cheese and Parmesan-filled pesto—and raised her eyebrows in skepticism when I explained my discomfort in doing so. Finally (though I can recount a plethora of further examples), a couple months ago, I broke into tears while my good friend and I discussed the isolation and lack of support for my veganism that I felt in my immediate community; my friend’s genuinely concerned response of, “So why don’t you just stop being vegan?” underscores the mainstream perception of veganism as a trait more akin to one’s hair color than to one’s deepest moral values. News flash non-vegans, aunt, mom, and friend: yes, I do find all of these things offensive.

“So why don’t you just stop being vegan?” underscores the mainstream perception of veganism as a trait more akin to one’s hair color than to one’s deepest moral values.

To those who view my veganism as a private choice I made willy-nilly to prove my nonconformity/help me lose weight/highlight my “hippie” image/change my eating habits in silence, with no intention of spreading the urgent reasons that compelled me to do so/etc., I’d like to offer these insights into why I’m vegan and devoted to remaining as such for the remainder of my life: to show non-exclusive compassion for all beings. To cause as little harm as possible to the world around me and all of its inhabitants. To expose the egregious animal cruelty perpetrated on every single factory farm in existence. To oppose the corrupt triangle of animal agribusiness, the government, and the pharmaceutical industry that profits immensely from influencing people to eat the meat and dairy products that underlie our country’s health crisis. To advocate for the exploited and deeply traumatized individuals employed at slaughterhouses. To combat the mindset of desensitization to violence and suffering with which the vast majority of people currently live. I could go on.

So no, I can’t just “eat a steak” or “stop being vegan,” because to do so would require me to either contract amnesia and forget every smidgen of information I’ve gathered about the dire implications of eating animals, or to metamorphose into an altogether different person with a new brain, personality, and belief system. Veganism defines who I am, just as does sexuality for many involved in the gay rights movement, or as did race for many involved in the civil rights movement. But because mainstream society often fails to accept veganism or animal rights as legitimate social movements, most folks wouldn’t consider eating a hamburger, waxing poetic about the cheese plate one ordered at a restaurant last night, or demanding respect for their personal eating habits as offensive toward the vegans with whom they may interact. I’d like to argue that vegans deserve just as much consideration as others who speak for underrepresented groups in terms of what those outside the groups deem as appropriate to say to them, and would urge people to ponder that, for example, justifying the decision to eat meat by insisting that humans have done so for a significant number of years parallels justifying the decision to own slaves based upon the same reasoning.

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If individuals support any sort of movement involving human rights, environmental protection, or a general decrease in violence, I say that looking down upon veganism as an insignificant personal choice rather than respecting it as a powerful call for justice undermines the progressive, liberally-minded ethics said individuals have worked to cultivate. I remain confident that once people begin to understand veganism as a deeply ingrained set of values and beliefs, they’ll start to ask for more information concerning the activist ideals of a vegan lifestyle, and thereby discover the toll that eating animals has taken and will continue to take on billions of sentient beings, on our planet, and on our personal health.

To conclude, I’d like to leave you with this quote by Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson: “If you want to know where you would have stood on slavery before the Civil War, don’t look at where you stand on slavery today. Look at where you stand on animal rights.”

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resizedA passionate animal liberation advocate with a penchant for writing and healthy living, Ali Seiter intends to devote her professional and personal lives to speaking out on behalf of the victims of animal agribusiness, both human and non. She currently attends Vassar College as a prospective English major. In her limited spare time, Ali enjoys practicing yoga, biking, baking gluten-free bread, and blogging at Farmers Market Vegan. You can find Ali on her blog, on Twitter as @FarmerMarketVeg, or on Facebook.

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Greetings, Queer Vegan Food readers! Thanks to everyone who contributed to the Ellen Degeneres egg posts. The discussions have been enlightening and I think very useful in figuring out how our vegan movement needs to address the backyard egg movement.

Today, I am beyond excited to post this article written by guest blogger Jessica Zafonte! In this guest blog, Jessica calls attention to unique queer-vegan issues within the gay parenting-themed American television series “The New Normal,” which airs on NBC and is co-produced by openly gay Ryan Murphy and out lesbian Ali Adler (both of whom also work on the series Glee, another LGBTQ-themed show). Jessica calls attention to how animal welfare is portrayed in this series, and her discussion about the show’s portrayal of how the privileged gay characters (both of whom are wealthy, male, and able-bodied) relate with animal welfare concerns on the television series is excellent and needed. LGBTQ issues and animal welfare issues are inextricably linked.

Jessica asks us to consider why an opportunity to showcase a meaningful connection between oppression against animals and LGBTQ folks was squandered when the television series made a muck of the topic of animal welfare during a recent episode. Jessica wonders if the show’s creators fear that in order to portray gay themes to mainstream audiences, they cannot simultaneously work against oppression of other groups (or even, I would add, non-privileged gay groups)?

I invite you to read Jessica’s fascinating, well-written and insightful post, and to leave a comment and share your thoughts on her post and this topic:

Guest Post: “The New Normal” TV Show’s Attitude About Food Animals

By Jessica Zafonte

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I know that in order for our society to awaken to the cruelty and injustice behind raising and killing animals for food and for our culture’s consumption to move towards a more compassionate diet, the topic will need to enter the public discourse and become a mainstream debate. However, as I’m sure many of you can understand, currently when the mainstream media address any animal issues they are usually frighteningly misinformed and one-sided. I often wish that a given newspaper article/news segment/ TV show just chose to ignore the subject rather than address it in such a biased or unhelpful way. But I think it is important to remember that before any societal norm can change, it has to be discussed by those on both sides of the issue. It might seem like things are getting worse before they can get better.

This topic came to mind after watching the Thanksgiving Episode of NBC’s new show, “The New Normal.” For those of you not familiar, the show is based around a gay couple who hire a surrogate to carry their child. The antagonist of the show is the uber-conservative, angry, homophobic, racist, etc. grandmother of the surrogate mom. Although the show is cheesy and gets most of its laughs from playing off of stereotypes, it does promote a progressive and pro-gay rights message. When I read the synopsis on a recent episode on Hulu though my heart sunk. It stated that upon going to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, two of the main characters decide instead to rescue all of the turkeys at the farm. Sounds like a good thing, no? But I knew it was too good to be true. Sure enough, while the “pardoning” of all the turkeys motivates the characters to initially acknowledge that Thanksgiving is about peace, compassion, and forgiveness, they ultimately regress to their old ways of thinking about these animals.

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Characters on “The New Normal” prepare for a dinner party.

The more flamboyant half of the gay couple takes the daughter of the surrogate (don’t get bogged down in the details) to an organic farm where they can buy a “hormone-free, antibiotic-free” turkey. (Since the surrogate is pregnant of course, otherwise it would be perfectly fine to put these sorts of additives into the human body). They are then horrified when the farmer tells them to pick their turkey and that he will kill it right in front of them (as the camera zooms into a bloody tree stump and axe). The duo is horrified – it was their understanding that they’d be buying something already killed and wrapped up- something that didn’t look like the living thing it was! Yes, I like this! Demonstrating the disconnect between living animals and the food we eat! Upon returning home, with the rescued living turkeys in tow, the closed-minded grandma, known for her offensive and ignorant lines, is appalled that the family won’t be eating turkey for their holiday meal, insisting that “meat is American” and that “vegetables are for poor people.” At this point I’m really excited.

tofurkeyThis seemed like it was turning out to be a humorous commentary on what is now a growing awareness of the harm and unhealthiness behind animal agriculture! The character making these ridiculous statements is the one that always says the things that are “wrong” and “non-progressive,” after all. But, to my great disappointment, it was all downhill from there. After numerous comments about how stupid and dirty the turkeys are, the family sits down to their tofurkey dinner and then proceeds to be so revolted by the meat substitute that they all simultaneously spit it out onto their plates. Cut to the last scene where the little girl goes off to school and the mother snickers at the turkeys and tells them they will make a “delicious Christmas meal.” End scene. Heart drops. Blood pressure rises. So even a show that attempts to convey an important message of compassion and tolerance to a wide audience, which inevitably includes many prejudiced or closed-minded folks, just cannot extend this kindness and acceptance to animals?

Gays have been oppressed, marginalized, and physically and emotionally attacked throughout history – but I think we all derive hope from the fact that the public sentiment is finally changing. Yet the show proceeded to focus this same cruel and unjust treatment on living, breathing, feeling animals. Even the characters who were undeniably created by the show’s writers to stand for acceptance of an “alternative” lifestyle, tolerance of those difference from us, and compassion towards those we may not understand, acted inconsistently with their own moral fibers.

I often feel similarly after receiving google alerts that I set up for the words “vegan,” “animal rights” and “animal welfare.” Some of the articles that they lead me to are from inside the animal agriculture industry, where the authors bash animal activists for being extremist. One such article said something to the effect that only farmers know what is truly best for their animals, not animal activists. After my blood stopped boiling I began to think that maybe this wasn’t such a bad thing. First, Big Ag is getting scared of those on the side of animal welfare. If we weren’t a threat to the way they run their businesses (aka torture animals) then they would not be discussing this in the first place. (See this somewhat encouraging article in “Alfa Farmers,” acknowledging that the animal rights movement includes some “very influential people,” are “well-funded” and worries that “in the future, will one out of five people be vegans?” And that they cannot “underestimate our society’s ability to change.”). Second, the more publicity a topic is given, the greater chance that someone who has not yet made his/her mind up on the issue or even though about it, will begin to. Change doesn’t happen before discussion and a fight. Just like that famous Mahatma Gandhi quote: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” I think right now our movement is somewhere in between the” laughing at you” and “fighting you” stage.3950908873_when_you_are_right_you_cannot_be_too_radical_design_answer_3_xlarge

But the underlying question is why the public sentiment on this topic is so negative, even among educated, caring, progressive individuals? Is caring about animals just TOO progressive? Is veganism really that radical? I know that a lot of us tend to live in our vegan bubbles but when we step out of them we realize that many people do see our lifestyles as extreme and our way of thinking as “outside the box,” to put it mildly. But not long ago, a non-heterosexual lifestyle was seen as the exact same way, and still is by many people. The same is true throughout history of our view and treatment of other races and cultures. In today’s age, is having no compassion for and killing/eating animals the great equalizer?

Is this the issue on which conservatives and liberals, gays and straights, blacks and whites can agree on? And if so, why? Is an iteration of the common enemy theory? Do we, as a society, always need to be marginalizing some group in order to function? I don’t think so. I think that the animal agriculture issue is one that most of society is still uneducated about, especially as farm animals become more out of the public eye than ever before, closed behind factory farm doors. So while I sometimes wish that no one would even touch on the food/animal issue if it is going to be done in a misinformed, hypocritical, closed minded way, maybe this is actually the first step.

me and SophieJessica Zafonte is a vegan animal lover and attorney. She worked as a criminal prosecutor in Brooklyn before becoming an associate at a large law firm practicing patent litigation.  Jessica lives in New York City with her boyfriend, three cats rescued off the streets and fifteen mice rescued from a lab.

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Finding a Niche For All Animals: A Conference honoring the ecofeminist work of Marti Kheel held at Wesleyan University

This weekend, I attended a conference honoring the life and work of late vegan ecofeminist scholar and activist Marti Kheel. The conference took place at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and was organized by Wesleyan professor Lori Gruen and one of my personal heroines, Carol J. Adams.

Marti was the author of the classic ecofeminist book Nature Ethics: An Ecofeminist Perspective, which, according to Marti, “seeks to heal the divisions between the seemingly disparate movements and philosophies of feminism, animal advocacy, environmental ethics, and holistic health.” What drew me to Kheel’s work as an undergraduate at Vassar is that it outlines an ecofeminist philosophy that acknowledges the crucial roles of empathy in activism. It has always made intuitive sense to me to apply my “feeling” self to my activism.

The late ecofeminist vegan Marti Kheel.

I love how Marti explained that killing animals is wrong on “logical” grounds, but that we can also argue that one’s feelings about animals, compassion for their lives, and empathy for others’ suffering are valid reasons to be in favor of a plant-based diet.

Marti was a fantastic, determined, strong-minded activist, and a cherished friend to many within this movement and beyond. It was inspiring to see the ripples of her influence through the words of many of her friends and colleagues who spoke at the memorial the first evening of the conference. After a documentary shown about her life and work and a wonderful speech by Marti’s friend and colleague, The Sexual Politics of Meat author Carol J. Adams, other folks stood up and spoke about their personal connections to Marti. Many at the conference had worked very closely with her, including those who were active with Feminists For Animal Rights (FAR), a group Marti created based on her vision. Others had volunteered with Marti for animal rights causes or had been influenced by her during their academic and activist careers. While I did not speak at the memorial, I am lucky to say that I did have the privilege of meeting Marti several years ago while I was living in the Bay Area (she was a raw vegan and we met at an Oakland raw foods event organized by a mutual connection) and we kept in touch as I worked at a raw vegan center which she had visited before we’d met.

Just after meeting Marti, she instantly connected me with queer vegan women’s events she organized in the Bay Area, and we corresponded over e-mail about holistic health, and things related to a book project my partner and I were (and still are) working on about the intersections between holistic health, veganism and LGBTQ communities. The last time I heard from Marti was on October 5, 2011 in an e-mail letting me know she was sick with cancer and that she wanted to help more with our book, and that I should e-mail her questions and ideas quickly because time was of the essence. A few weeks later, on November 19, 2011, I got news that Marti had died. While I hadn’t known Marti as well as others in attendance at the conference, and we were only beginning to discuss and collaborate on ideas, I have been so humbled and grateful that even while sick and facing the end of her life, Marti was immensely committed to helping others and advance the vegan movement.

Heartwarming stories were shared at the memorial portion of the conference including a beautiful story Carol J. Adams told about how Marti began her animal activism as a young person refusing to pose in the family photos unless her family’s pet cat could be included. Several members of Marti’s family were in attendance, and shared how her compassionate approach to veganism influenced them and made more inspired to question aspects of their own lives.

Carol J. Adams speaking at the Marti Kheel Conference.

Panels at the conference referenced Marti’s Ecofeminist work and discussed how Marti’s compassionate approach to activism was infused in every aspect of her life.While the conference was primarily academic in nature–terms like “praxis” and “problemetize” were included in many panelists’ talks based on papers they’d written for the conference–there were great inclusions of practical approaches to activism that I found heartening and inspiring. My friend Lauren Ornelas of Food Empowerment Project and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition gave a great talk about how her work with FEP considers food justice as a complex issue that requires looking beyond simply checking to see if ingredients are vegan. We must ensure that they are ethically sourced, as in the case of her nonprofit’s commitment to identifying truly ethical vegan chocolate companies that do not trade in child slave labor. (Note: Please sign the petition asking the makers of Clif Bars to disclose where they get their cocoa beans!) Lauren also discussed the importance of a vegan activist approach that is respectful to the needs of diverse communities.

Absolutely inspiring, witty and brilliant vegan duo Mark Hawthorne and Lauren Ornelas.

Theorist Greta Gaard spoke about ecofeminist theory and practice, and mentioned queer sexuality in the context of animal rights (which I loved).  Other talks I found inspiring included pattrice jones’ discussion of her queer-run animal sanctuary Vine Sanctuary, and about how they have all of their important meetings standing up in the barn while surrounded by animals. patrice said a line which really rang true: “All the stuff we really want is free.” patrice said to share with paleo dieters and purported feminists who eat meat: “Tell them that eating meat is something you do to someone else’s body without their consent.” What a powerful and accurate thing to say!

The first evening of the conference was catered with delicious vegan sushi, appetizers and gluten-free vegan treats from a local Connecticut vegan bakery:

Vegan sushi and chocolates served at the Marti Kheel conference.

Mushroom polenta cakes served after the memorial portion of the conference.

Lunch on Saturday was 100% vegan and delicious.

Ivory of vegan myths debunked fame (who is an all-star, best ever vegan conference buddy, the best a gal could ever hope for!) and I met in NY Penn station (I came from Philly, she from Brooklyn) and traveled to the conference together. We had the amazing good fortune of meeting some really wonderful new friends Andrea and Danielle at the conference who convinced us to stay with them in Branford, CT (near Wesleyan) and have a late-night persimmon and almond milk Greek yogurt party instead of staying at a hotel. It did not take too much arm twisting ;) We had a wonderful time bonding, chatting about our paths to veganism and how we all love plants (PLANTS!)! It was amazing to find some queer vegan women kinship and make incredible, thought-provoking, hilarious new friends!

Vegan lady friends! L to R: Danielle, Andrea and Ivory!

All-organic, fair-trade coffee was served with some soy mylk on the side.

Ecofeminist Greta Gaard speaking about Marti Kheel.

Wesleyan University’s beautiful campus.

Posing after lunch with my heroine and friend Carol J. Adams.

I got to meet Ali, fellow Vassar woman and author of the fabulous vegan food blog Farmers’ Market Vegan!

Ivory, Andrea and I had a great time at the conference!

One activist spoke about her ethical dilemma in not being able to find a vegan infant formula and needing to procure one immediately for her infant in the ICU. She said the D3 in the product was sourced from lanolin, which is from sheep, and that choosing that product was very difficult for her but ultimately was what was necessary to save her son’s life.

After the panel, I commended the activist for finding compassion for herself in this difficult situation, and I suggested the option of reaching out to infant formula brands that use all-vegan ingredients except for the non-vegan D3 and asking them to use vegan D3 in products now that it is available. This was something the panelist had not considered doing, and I think it’s a good example of where businesses and academics can work together to find solutions to problems.

I currently work for a vegan business and have worked for other vegan businesses in the past. I believe in the importance of academia and the influence of scholarship in shaping ideas that later become practiced throughout activist movements, however I also feel it is crucial that we connect the dots and work with businesses to provide vegan alternatives. I think a more vegan-friendly marketplace is a great goal for academics and non-academics (lay people?) alike, and was grateful for the chance to discuss this with her.

My former professor/friend Jill Schneiderman and others admiring the next generation of vegan activists.

For me, Finding A Niche For All Animals involved honoring Marti Kheel and celebrating her legacy, meeting new friends, seeing old friends, connecting with visionaries and a rare and incredibly sweet private lunch with Carol and Ivory in which we discussed our work and plans for the future. I leave with a renewed inspiration that vegan activism must always come from the love and empathy we have inside us that extends outwards to those around us. Thank you for reading.

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I recently had the honor of speaking on the topics covered in Queer Vegan Food during a taping of Animal Voices radio show in Vancouver!

How is this struggle for sexual freedom related to the struggle for animal liberation? Similarly, how is the queer body connected to the nonhuman body that queer vegans choose not to consume, wear, or use? The host and I chatted about what it means to be a queer vegan and how veganism and queerness relate. A great discussion!

Click here to read about the topics covered in the radio show, and
click here to listen:

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