An Open Letter to PeTA

Dear PeTA,

As a young animal rights advocate brimming with idealism in the conviction that animal exploitation can be ended, and as an active participant in the vegan movement, I am writing to you to offer some observations – observations that are increasingly characterizing a growing segment of those involved in vegan advocacy. Since being an animal advocate means speaking up on behalf of those who do not have a voice, it is crucial that any animal rights movement worthy of the name commit itself to the kind of dispassionate self-reflection that makes coherence possible, and long-term success inevitable.

Non-human slavery is, of course, a cruel institution that involves both unspeakable violence against the vulnerable and the demoralization of the humans who are committing the violence. In addition to being the oldest form of oppression, animal exploitation has often also served as a model for other forms of oppression, which involve human animals. Human slavery, for instance, did not proliferate until the ‘domestication’ of non-human animals became the common means of sustenance for humans. Women were actually the first group of humans to be owned by others (namely, their husbands) as chattel property; and throughout the long history of co-existence between animal exploitation and patriarchy, much has been noted about the commonalities that make both of these forms of oppression – indeed, all forms of oppression – possible. Animal exploitation and patriarchy are both rooted in the ownership over another’s body. Like animal exploitation, which turns non-human individuals into objects of consumption for humans, patriarchy as a cross-cultural and trans-historical phenomenon has always involved the ‘thingification’ of women’s bodies, manifested either through outright ownership (by husbands and fathers), or through widespread sexual objectification. Both non-human slavery and patriarchy are heavily steeped in the fetishization of violence. It would seem, then, that an organization ostensibly committed to the eradication of animal exploitation would also support the eradication of gender hierarchy. Yet judging from your track record, this has not been the case.

Your anti-fur ads, for instance, have frequently featured scantily clad women claiming that they would ‘rather go naked than wear fur’. Nudity, of course, does not carry any particular meaning in and of itself; but the use and portrayal of it can – and in the current reality of male power, it certainly does. In the ad pictured above, the women are set to ‘perform’ at a strip club, where they are turned into de-personalized sex objects. The men who watch them ‘perform’ will consume nothing more a series of fetishized body parts, in the same way that the meat eater consumes the dismembered body parts of a non-human individual. What sense does it make to treat women like pieces of meat to protest treating animals like pieces of meat? What sense does it make to single out fur – more commonly worn by women – when leather and wool, the production of which requires every bit as much violence as fur, are more common throughout society, anyway? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that, as a traditionally disempowered group, women make easy pickings for bullying from ‘progressive’, ‘peace-loving’ animal rights activists. No doubt leather-clad bikers would react less diplomatically to harassment and attempts at intimidation.

To say that there is nothing wrong with sexual objectification because women ‘voluntarily’ choose to participate in it – or, more ironically, that sexual objectification is an expression of our freedom – is like saying that African-Americans who ‘voluntarily’ chose to perform in blackface comedies were striking a blow for racial equality in so doing. Choosing to participate in the institutions that subordinate you might be expedient, but that does not mean that it is a liberating or empowering choice. Patriarchy creates the social and political reality of female subordination in society. We are socialized into an oppressive gender role, made economically underprivileged (relative to men) through de facto discrimination in the workplace, and sexually objectified through the relentless commodification of our bodies, not only in the media, but in every other aspect of society, as well. We are then seen to be individuals who make free choices. In reality, this claim is – at best – an unkind exaggeration, since freedom and individual expression are precisely what a group of people is denied when they are systematically discriminated against, and their social role and status is super-imposed on them by those who dominate them. We are free, all right: free to participate in the means of our own oppression, and to uphold the very values that are used to subordinate us. The ‘freedom’ to live within the limited and degrading confines available to us under patriarchy, and to play into the male-supremacist game – the only kind of ‘freedom’ that patriarchy has ever afforded women – is then mistakenly taken to be a token of the real liberty and dignity that we (allegedly) possess. There is a particularly bitter irony about having one’s oppression called one’s freedom; but war is peace, I suppose, when those who dominate you do the naming, and when they are the ones who decide what the permitted discourse will be.

Arguably worse is the tendency of many of your campaigns to eroticize violence against women. In the ad pictured above, an ‘animalized’ woman is being hunted down by men who will dominate her. Having power – the power of force – over her, they have captured her and are now seen to own her, ready to use her for what she is, because she is hunted meat. They are hunters, powerful and self-possessed; she is a thing – an object – of nature, to be used and ravished by them. The chains on her body and the weapons wielded by the men suggest violence and domination. The thrill is in the chase, the over-powering; the pleasure is to be found precisely in the non-consensual nature of the act. The hierarchies alluded to in this picture (man over woman, human over non-human) are both believable and easy to take for granted at first sight because they accurately mirror the objective realities of our world as it currently stands. It is not altogether clear, however, how glamourizing this is supposed to educate or enlighten those who take such power relationships for granted as being in the ‘natural’ order of things. It is similarly unclear what the average viewer is supposed to have learned about cruelty towards elephants from this sexist advertising, or indeed, how such advertising inspires anyone to act in any meaningful way. But why worry about something as trivial as helping animals when you can create empty media hype, instead?

Given this track record, it does not come as a surprise that PeTA is now launching a porn site, where images of animal cruelty will be juxtaposed with scenes of women being degraded and abused – supposedly to promote an animal rights message. At this point, one has to wonder: is there no limit to just how low your organization is willing to stoop in your relentless quest for ever more publicity and attention? Your anti-fur campaigns, for instance, have not actually resulted in any decrease in fur sales, despite the media attention they have generated for you. Have the animals then become mere bargaining chips in your scripted kabuki dance of busywork, sexism, and self-indulgent glamour? Certainly, your organization has refused to consider that its campaigns might support the continued subordination of women, or that the women’s rights issue requires more nuanced consideration than an enthusiastic proclamation in support of our right to take our clothes off and bend over. But let’s not talk about how most of the women in the porn industry are destitute runaways who were sexually abused as children, or about how – once in the industry – they are frequently raped and addicted to drugs – we wouldn’t want to rain on the glamour-and-fun parade.

Perhaps the ends really do justify the means: a relentless stream of entertaining misogyny is justified when it brings in money and publicity. One can only hope that you are able continue on likewise for the forseeable future. Non-human victims of slavery should be so fortunate so as to have their movement spend another two and a half decades on entertaining misogyny, self-indulgent galas, an astonishingly high kill-rate of ‘rescued’ animals, and vapid campaigns to stamp happy-faces onto the corpses of the tormented, all while the actual number of animals bred into a life of misery and servitude continues to sky-rocket.

Sincerely,

An abolitionist of the most revolting character, dividing the feelings of the welfarists against the abolitionists.

Speciesists Say the Darndest Things: Canine Teeth

Speciesism (discrimination on the basis of species) is wrong because, like sexism, racism, and other forms of irrational prejudice, it uses an irrelevant criterion (in this case, species) to devalue certain sentient beings.

In this section, we (non-violently) rip apart your silly arguments in favour of species discrimination.

(Image courtesy of Emmy James)

Once upon a time, a speciesist said to me…

“So what if human beings don’t have sharp teeth, like most carnivores? We can make tools (such as spears) instead. Perhaps our canines started shrinking once they were no longer as useful, but the fact that we have them shows that they were useful.”

Even if humans once had sharp teeth, big claws, and bodies that could actually digest meat easily, does that justify eating meat now? In this day and age, humans can be perfectly healthy without consuming animal products, so unless we’re lost and starving on a desert island where there’s nothing but animals (who somehow survive despite the lack of vegetation), we have no reason to.

Our puny little canines – which, by the way, some herbivores also have, and are more like ours than the teeth of carnivores – aren’t a good justification for continuing to participate in violence towards other animals, just like owning a sharp knife in your kitchen drawer doesn’t justify murdering humans.

The animals we use have no say as to whether they live or die. But we do have a choice. We can choose between violence or non-violence. These are sentient, feeling beings with an interest in continued life. They don’t care about what sort of teeth we have or about our ability to make tools. They care about their lives.

~Emmy James

Emmy is a vegan living in New Zealand. You can find her at her personal blog, The Peaceful Abolitionist.

How I Went Vegan: Amy Shafer

Amy Shafer has been vegan for two years and loves to tell people about how the change is the best decision of her life. Since going vegan in 2010, she has joined the Peace Advocacy Network‘s (PAN) Board as Volunteer Coordinator. The non-profit, 100% volunteer-run group connects social justice, human rights, and animal rights with vegan education being a root of their many campaigns. Amy also has a blog, The Vegan Light Bulb.

How I Went Vegan

1. What made you decide to go vegan?

For the majority of my hypocritical just-vegetarian existence, I was telling people, “I could NEVER be a vegan!” After about 10 years of that, I started to think, “Well…maybe I could be vegan.” What changed my mind was a combination of having a few professors who were vegan, having a housemate who was vegan, and stumbling upon various articles. All of those things lead up to the most influential thing for me, which was finding The Veganic Witch on YouTube. After watching her videos, I quickly decided, “No more!”

2. Was there anything that you were nervous about at first?

Once I make up my mind to do something, I’m usually pretty fearless. This was largely the case with my going vegan, but I do remember being nervous about losing weight because I’m already so petite. Sure enough, well-meaning people told me I was losing weight and I felt self-conscience about it. Then I weighed myself and discovered I was actually heavier - ha! Perception is a powerful thing. The good news is that I weigh more than I did since that weighing but it is still a healthy weight.

3. Did you go vegan gradually, or in stages? How did you learn to eat out, read labels, etc?

I had already been vegetarian for 12 years when I decided to go vegan. Once I went vegan, I cut out all animal foods. I stopped buying non-vegan clothes and other things. I used up certain household things that I had from before, though (like shampoos), until they ran out.

I’m very fortunate to live in Philadelphia, where there are a ton of vegan restaurants. I’m also lucky in that, I feel the city has been veganized and is veganizing right along with me. When I first went vegan just two years ago, there was only a handful of vegan restaurants. Now, that amount has at least doubled and there are dozens of places with vegan options.

To someone less lucky, I would recommend researching places, calling ahead, etc. Most places are happy to help (and cook something different for a change!) if you give them notice. Sometimes eating a sandwich before going out is a good idea.

As for food shopping/label reading - despite being vegan for 2 years, I’m not as great at reading labels as I should be, because I food shop at Trader Joe’s and they mark - on the shelf - whether or not the product is vegan. Since I tend to be short on money, I prefer to buy whole foods like rice, beans, veggies, pasta, etc rather than buying processed foods and reading labels. It’s actually the healthier way to go about things, too.

4. How did you learn to cook? Are there any substitutes or comfort foods that have been helpful?

My cooking skills are actually quite limited, but I still always enjoy what I whip up. I own a rice cooker, so I basically eat rice with a stir-fry every other night, and pasta on the other nights. For the stir-fries, I don’t follow a recipe. I just throw veggies in a pan with olive oil and then add some beans. I’ve started experimenting with spices recently, which is fun and tasty. I’m still always trying different vegetables. A nice thing about eating plant-based foods is that it’s easy to find things that go well together. Nutritional yeast can also be a nice addition to many dishes.

After going vegan, I discovered nutritional yeast, which I never would have tried before. It may not look or sound appetizing, but it makes many things taste better and it’s incredibly healthy! It’s packed with nutrients, and it helps improve your mood because of all the B-vitamins. Prior to going vegan, I used to struggle with depression and sleep-issues regularly. After going vegan, these problems vanished. I think nutritional yeast was a part of that.

5. What was your transition like socially? Have friends and family been supportive? Do you have a support network of vegan friends of acquaintances (in person or online) that makes things easier for you?

The social aspect of veganism is by far the hardest but I truly think it’s a good thing. The first couple of days, I was a bit nervous about telling people, friends, family, and even strangers, that I was vegan . Maybe this was because in the past, I myself had been incredibly judgmental against vegans. Later, I  experienced a sort of fantastic boost of “I’m vegan and I’m so happy about it!”. It is this attitude that was great for (and continues to be great for) educating others.

My family was initially concerned about my health. One of my family members is even personally tied to the animal agriculture industry. This person reacted to my veganism with so much hostility  that I remember feeling like I didn’t want to go home again. Still, when I argued with them, I felt comforted by all I heard/read/learned from Gary Francione. Not long after this intense argument, this person discovered that they had become lactose intolerant. Now, things are peaceful and at family gatherings, we eat a lot of the same things. The fact that I’m still alive and kicking after two years of veganism has also helped to re-assure my family that veganism is healthy.

My friends have always been fine with my veganism. There is teasing, of course, but I have the kind of relationship with them where I can just say rude things back and it’s fine. I love that because out in the “real world” when people make bacon comments or whatever, I have to smile politely and educate them patiently - even though, sometimes I wish I could just be sarcastic back. So I’m glad I have friends that I can be sassy with when they say, “How ’bout a steak?” Mixed in with the zingers and bad language, there have been deeper conversations and I feel good about the seeds I’ve planted.

I’ve also gotten a lot of vegan friends on and offline. I joined a vegan non-profit group; I’ve made a bunch of friends through that. Online I have a ton of friends. I love the fact that when there’s something vegan-related bothering me, I have 50+ people I can talk to about it. It helps me stay sane!

6. What advice would you give to someone who is considering going vegan?

Always remember why you want to and have to be vegan. If you keep that in your mind and your heart, all the “hard” stuff will become easy.

Also, I always think about people who struggled for various social justice issues in the past, whether it’s civil rights or feminism or whatever. They did the right thing even when it was much harder for them to do it than it is for me to be a vegan now. The law often worked against them; their lives were often on the line. The social pressures they faced were much more intense than what most vegans face. Thinking about such people - most of whom were anonymous – gives me strength; it makes me realize that I am part of something big. Humans are always progressing towards greater social justice and veganism is a part of that. Anyone who really cares can be a part of it, too.

I would also like to stress the importance of a positive mindset. See veganism as an adventure and an opportunity to run wild with something new. If you educate yourself (for example, the most commonly asked vegan-related questions) and if you are able to share this information with a genuine smile, you will be doing more for the animals than anything that you could have accomplished with a check or a signature on a petition. Any vegan who hopes to help the animals needs to stay happy, healthy, and kind. Don’t become a junk-food vegan and don’t became a vegan who hates people. If you need to, find a book or a website to keep your spirits up. Human beings are animals, too!

Veganism as a Minimum Standard of Decency

by Dan Cudahy (Originally published at Unpopular Vegan Essays)

In discussions with non-vegans – particularly non-vegans on the Internet who are familiar with the assertions of both the vegan animal rights movement and the assertions of the counter-movement – the issue of “drawing the line” is often raised as a sort of objection to veganism. While it’s true that vegans avoid a lot of harm, so the argument goes, vegans also indirectly cause a lot of harm: animals are killed by crop harvesters and motor vehicles; natural and artificial pesticides are used in crop production; and often one cannot tell exactly what harm might have been done either to animals directly or to the environment in any given purchase, even at the local natural foods store or farmers’ market. Since vegans haven’t achieved perfection of purity in the art of non-harming and non-violence, it is really only a matter of line-drawing, and until one achieves absolute perfection of purity, one has no business criticizing any other lines that might be drawn. To criticize other lines is to fail to recognize one’s own shortcomings from Platonic perfection, and therefore to fall into – dare we say it – ‘hypocrisy’.

Drawing lines can be difficult in any area of morality, and the more precise the line drawn, often the more difficulties that arise. However, the difficulty of drawing precise lines should not deter us from exploring less precise lines of minimum standards or moral baselines that are (or should be) reasonable for the vast majority of people in society, even if it would require a complete abolition of animal agriculture.

We establish and philosophically defend moral baselines regularly in society in the form of laws regarding such issues as murder, involuntary manslaughter, assault, declarations of war, and speed limits, even though these issues can be just as difficult to draw lines in as animal issues. None of us are “pure” when it comes to protecting humans from cruelty and death either; yet we do draw lines: we aren’t cannibals; and most of us don’t knowingly or happily support human enslavement and slaughter. [1]

We ought also to establish and philosophically defend such baselines regarding animals. Instead, we have a morally relative (and wrong) laissez-faire policy of refusing to even discuss line-drawing regarding animals, despite their overwhelming similarities to us in terms of the morally relevant characteristics: sentience and perceptual intelligence and awareness.

Given the morally relevant similarities and irrelevant differences between humans and other animals, and given that we are likely to find absolute perfection in non-harming far too ascetic or practically impossible in our modern society, veganism is the baseline we ought to promote and live by. Veganism is not the end point or the most we can do; rather, it is the least we can do.

Veganism is essentially refraining from contributing to the exploitation and intentional killing or slaughter of nonhuman beings. Preventing accidental and incidental human fatalities in traffic accidents and police action – even foreseen human deaths – is not required by laws prohibiting slavery and murder. In the same way, preventing accidental and incidental deaths in traffic accidents or harvesting crops – even foreseen deaths – is not required by veganism. In other words, abolitionist animal rights, as currently conceived, and the corresponding moral baseline of veganism are precisely the same in “line-drawing” as laws prohibiting chattel slavery and murder. Laws prohibiting slavery and murder say nothing about preventing motor vehicle injuries and fatalities, or how much cost we should incur in saving an injured child’s life, or “friendly fire” (unintended killing) in a justified war of self-defense. We should certainly take appropriate measures to reduce such deaths as much as possible, but again, veganism is merely a first and minimum standard, not the final or the best standard.

Choosing to consume animal products is a choice to partake in the exploitation and intentional slaughter of sentient beings. Given our wide variety of food choices today, we can easily refuse to partake in such exploitation and slaughter. In many cases, such as this one, drawing lines can be very appropriate and strongly defended, especially when one acknowledges that the line drawn is only a minimum standard of decency, not a maximum standard of purity.

 

Notes:

[1] If you live and pay taxes in an industrialized nation with a strong military, such as the United States, you inadvertently and indirectly, and hopefully unwillingly and regrettably, support the slaughter of innocent humans in the form of warfare in other countries (waged primarily for economic reasons; the economic reasons controversially thought to be also ‘national security’ reasons) and arms supply to violent militias, just like vegans inadvertently, unwillingly, and regrettably support the slaughter of innocent nonhumans by living and paying taxes in our animal-exploiting society.

I’m Vegan: Risa

“I’m Vegan” is a documentary web series where vegans from all over North America come together to share their stories.

I’m Vegan: Risa

Risa has been vegan over a decade. She works at a raw restaurant in Vancouver, where she lives and also works as a singer/songwriter.

Speciesists Say the Darndest Things: But Nature is Crueler!

Speciesism (discrimination on the basis of species) is wrong because, like sexism, racism, and other forms of irrational prejudice, it uses an irrelevant criterion (in this case, species) to devalue certain sentient beings.

In this section, we (non-violently) rip apart your silly arguments in favour of species discrimination.

(Image Courtesy of Emmy James)

Once upon a time, a speciesist said to me…

“You seem to forget that animals in the wild don’t get to live without eventually being eaten. I look at it this way: at least domesticated animals are raised properly and live a decent life before they are eaten. It’s far better than what they would get in the wild.”

Perhaps we should still keep humans as slaves as well. There’s a possibility they could get killed in a natural disaster if we don’t!

The thing is, domesticated animals are owned by us. They don’t have a choice as to how long they live for or what happens to their babies. They can’t even raise their babies. We are in control of them and every aspect of their lives. They are, in effect, our slaves.

Even though there is a chance that a predator might eat them in the wild (not all ‘wild’ [or free-roaming] herbivores end up getting eaten), they get to be in control of their lives. They can raise families without the pain of losing a baby after every birth. They can live without the stress of moving to other herds and never seeing their friends and family again. They live for as long as nature intends them to live, on their own terms, rather than living and dying on our terms. Undomesticated, they are free. At the end of the day, slaves that are treated well by their slave-owners are still property. I would much rather be in control of my own life, than have another control it nicely. That’s why I, and many others, are working to abolish the property status of animals. Their lives are just as valuable to them, as ours are to us.

~Emmy James

Emmy James is a vegan from New Zealand. You can find her at her personal blog, Peaceful Abolitionist.

How I Went Vegan: Kelly Ryan

Kelly Ryan lives in Oxford, UK, with pieces of her heart scattered across the South Coast of England and India. As well as being an all-round awesome vegan, she knits, crochets, cooks, bakes, makes up songs about her cat, Tony Stark, and dabbles in running, yoga, meditation and self-improvement.

In this section, Kelly shares her vegan story, and provides insight and advice on going vegan.

How I Went Vegan

1. What made you decide to go vegan?

My decision to go vegan was actually based on a personal diet challenge. I had a friend who was vegan and I was intrigued, so I thought I’d give it a go. It was only after I’d changed to a plant based diet that I came upon animal rights information online, especially the Abolitionist Approach website, which opened my eyes. I’m now vegan because it’s the right thing to do.

2. Was there anything that you were nervous about at first?

Food. I think everyone is nervous about food because it’s such a social thing. I was worried about eating out in particular, but I realised with time that a little planning goes a long way!

3. Did you go vegan gradually, or in stages? How did you learn to eat out, read labels, etc?

It was a gradual process. I focused on food first, and when I was comfortable with that I got rid of all my animal-based clothing. Toiletries and cosmetics came last.

As I mentioned before, eating out was a concern at first but I learned to call ahead and, if I hadn’t called ahead, I learned to graciously accept a salad! In time, I figured out the best and most accommodating places to go, and discovered how delicious cheese-less pizza is!

Label reading can be quite daunting when it comes to making the food changes. Even now I still occasionally get caught out! My iPhone is extremely helpful; I often search for an e-number or an unknown ingredient and get immediate answers. If it’s not clear whether the ingredient is animal based or not, I avoid it anyway. In the UK, the Vegan Society have a pocket sized book called the Animal Free Shopper which was very handy for me in my early days of veganism, when I didn’t have a smart phone.

4. How did you learn to cook? Are there any substitutes or comfort foods that have been helpful?

I’d always been interested in cooking, but looking back to my omnivore days, my meals were quite uninspired. Since becoming vegan, I have become a pretty good cook (if  say so myself!) and have become very experimental in the kitchen.

For anybody interested in vegan cooking I was recommend good basic recipe website such as http://vegweb.com/ as well as a book or two. Vegan with a Vengeance or Veganomicon are staples in my house but may be quite complicated for the novice vegan cook. This cupcake recipe has been with me since the beginning of my vegan journey and has definitely helped me eat my way to vegan happiness!

As for substitutes, in the beginning I was into substituting cheese (Bute Island’s Sheese is the best I’ve tried in the UK) but now I’m not as interested. I was a cheese fiend as an omnivore, but now my palette has definitely changed to prefer more fresh unprocessed foods.

I use soy milk regularly, but it took so long to find a type that I like! The first soy milk I used was hideous and grainy but I stuck it out (what a hero!). Now I go for the long life own brand supermarket versions.

5. What was your transition like socially? Have friends and family been supportive? Do you have a support network of vegan friends of acquaintances (in person or online) that makes things easier for you?

Friends and family have been very supportive, and I know just how lucky I am. At first, I think they may have been slightly bewildered, and perhaps didn’t understand my reasons but as time has gone on they have opened up. They have learned to cook vegan meals, have listened to my reasons and recently a group of people, including my parents, had a plant-based day to celebrate my 3rd year vegan anniversary.

As a vegan, you will meet people who want to challenge you. Some will be respectful, some less so. My advice would be to learn as much as you can, familiarize yourself with the many (often ridiculous) reasons people fabricate for not being vegan and ready yourself with calm, informed responses. This self education does take time, but after 3 years I am beginning to feel more comfortable in face to face situations.

Getting to a point where I can communicate more effectively has been helped by online groups. Facebook has a good network of abolitionist vegan groups, and the Abolitionist Approach website also has useful forums where you can connect with like minded vegans.

6. What advice would you give to someone who is considering going vegan?

I have some of snippets of advice for budding vegans.

Do it at your pace. If you have the ultimate goal of veganism in mind you’re on the right path. It took me at least a year to phase out toiletries and cosmetics, but the staggered approach I took made it seem much less daunting: food followed by clothes, followed by toiletries etc (and in fact household cleaning products took a little longer).

The second snippet is be prepared. Yeah, I know it’s the Scout motto but I’m keen to pilfer it for veganism instead. A little forward planning is going to make your vegan life so much easier. Don’t expect shops or restaurants to have food for you to eat; carry snacks, call ahead; take small steps in advance in advance to ensure you’re not disappointed. I’ve always taken this approach and everybody who I’ve badgered in restaurants and the like have always been very accommodating.

Veganism isn’t hard. It might seem hard when you consider it, but gradual changes and planning will make it much more accessible. And finally, veganism isn’t about perfection, it’s about doing the best you can whilst holding the values true in your heart. We all make mistakes, and sometimes we have to make exceptions (i.e. medications) but as long as you’re not deliberately scoffing chicken burgers whilst claiming to be vegan, you’re doing it right.

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