Friday, July 31, 2009

My Trip to the Stockyard

I have just finished an internship at Farm Sanctuary in Upstate New York. Farm Sanctuary is the largest farm animal sanctuary, focusing on education, outreach, legislation, and animal rescue. I have learned so much at Farm Sanctuary, and recommend it so strongly for anyone interested in animal rights.

One part of the internship was a trip to a stockyard auction. I'd like to tell you about my experience.

The stockyard was in Bath and was very small. Steers, pigs, lambs, and goats in holding stalls waiting, bleating, bellowing, and snorting, to be auctioned off. They paced the dirty stalls where they could barely turn around. They tried to push their ways through the wooden planks to be free. They cried. They literally cried. But that wasn't the worst part.

When we got there, they were about to auction off the veal calves. They were all kept in a very small pen. They were still wobbly--one could barely walk. Their wet umbilical cords still hung from their bellies. They cried and cried, like babies. Anxious, confused, stepping on each other, bellowing so so loudly. The worst part was bending over the stall to pet them, to try to offer them a small bit of comfort before they were either slaughtered or chained to veal crate later that day. When they saw fingers, they desperately began to suckle them. One followed me around, suckling desperately on my entire hand. Whether they were hungry or not is not the point--though very sad if they were--but they were seeking their mother's udder. Comfort. Affection. Far too young to be away from her.

Children beat the calves with canes. The older ones taught the younger ones (some so small they probably could not yet read) how to beat them to make them move. Baby cows flinched with fear and pain. They were smacked into the auction room, pushed around by a man to show the customers how well they can move. They would be sold and beat into another small pen. This went on for eternity.

Some calves were to be slaughtered that day for what is called "bob veal." This is low-quality veal that is not pale in flesh, but is very cheap to buy and produce. Other calves were to be chained to veal crates for 6 weeks, fed a liquid diet deficient in iron and protein to create pale, tender, anemic flesh, so desired by veal connoisseurs. These calves are weak with atrophied muscles, 6 weeks in the dark, alone, unable to even stand. Starving. Dying before being murdered. Babies.

This was a very small stockyard with small-town friendly farmers and Amish people. This is the BEST it's going to get. My heart won't even allow me to imagine what bigger, factory farmed veal operations looked like.

I'm having trouble shaking the feeling of baby cows suckling on my hand. Images of babies hitting babies with canes. Hearing the crying calves. Smelling the awful stench. Please don't drink milk.

Summer Salad Ideas

Mark Bittman recently published an article in the New York Times with summer salad ideas entitled 101 Simple Salads for the Season. Don't get too excited, all 101 recipes are not animal-friendly, but the first 36 are vegan as the subheading suggests. I will admit, I haven't tried any of these recipes out myself, but I was told they are top-notch. If you're looking for a creative vegan dish to bring to a potluck or summer BBQ, any of these recipes would make a great addition.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Big problems

In a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof discusses our moral obligations with regard to world poverty and muses on what leads people to turn the other way. He draws from the work of philosopher Peter Singer, who many of you may know from his writings about animal ethics.

Kristof points out that people are less likely to help when a problem is framed as very large and less specific. He cites the title of an upcoming essay by psychologist Paul Slovic: "The more who die, the less we care." Kristof writes that "humanitarian appeals emphasize the scale of the challenges — 25,000 children will die today! — in ways that are as likely to numb us as to galvanize us."

This should ring a bell for animal rights advocates. We all know that the numbers are staggering -- ten billion animals slaughtered every year in the United States alone, and many more when including fish. Perhaps we would do well to avoid overemphasizing the sheer scale of the problem. Instead, we could focus on how our individual choices are linked to animal cruelty while including positive arguments as well.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cheesy Vegan Macaroni Casserole

Here's a top-notch casserole recipe I learned from a friend. Although I call for mushrooms and broccoli here, you can really go with any veggies (cauliflower, onion, spinach, and kale are some ideas). If you're not familiar, nutritional yeast is an inactive, golden-hued form of yeast, rich in protein and B vitamins. This recipe capitalizes on the yeast's distinctive, cheese-like flavor (which also makes it good in pesto and on popcorn). Nutritional yeast is typically sold in bulk at natural food stores or in well-stocked supermarkets.

3 cups elbow macaroni
1/2 cup margarine or soy butter
1/2 cup flour
3 1/2 cups boiling water
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons dill
1 teaspoon cheyenne, turmeric, or paprika
2 Tablespoons cup olive oil
1 cup Nutritional Yeast
1 broccoli floret chopped
1 cup shitake mushrooms chopped

Preheat oven to 425°. Cook the noodles. While cooking, melt the margarine in a saucepan over low heat. Mix the flour in with a whisk and stir until smooth and bubbly. Add water, soy sauce, salt, and other spices. Let sauce cook until thick, then stir in oil and nutritional yeast and remove from heat. Drain the noodles and empty them into the casserole dish. Mix in about 2/3 of the sauce with the pasta. Layer the vegetables on top of the pasta. Pour remaining sauce atop veggies. Sprinkle with some more dill. Bake for about 25 minutes or until vegetables are soft and crispy and sauce is browned. Eat.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Winsome Vegan: some thoughts on faith, animal rights, and living with carnivores

I wrote this post on my own blog in 2007.

Even when I ate meat, I was never what you'd consider to be a "foodie." As I've written before, in my pre-vegan bachelor days, I could subsist for days, even weeks, on food-related products purchased at the local 7-11. Being vegan does force me to be more thoughtful about what I'm eating, but it's a thoughtfulness born more of necessity rather than pleasure. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy my food, I do. But I've never had much interest in contemplating exciting new meals. Cooking shows -- at least the sort where you are shown how to make something -- are stunningly dull. I do like fashion, and care much more about clothing than food. Hence, I do enjoy "Project Runway." But I can't explain why I'm so fond of "Top Chef" and the positively sadistic "Hell's Kitchen". Perhaps I just like watching people who are passionate about what they do struggling to perform under intense pressure. I know I'm at my best under pressure, and perhaps it's empathy born of experience in other areas of life that makes the competitors on these shows so interesting to me. Lord knows, it's not the food that they're actually making. And this brings me back to veganism. In the last four or five months that I have been much more strictly and actively vegan, I've been acutely conscious of my own dangerous tendency towards self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is the pit into which many adult converts tend to fall, and those of us who have "prodigal son" narratives (in my case involving a decade and a half worth of drugs, alcohol, multiple divorces and a lot of very unhealthy sexual acting-out) are all the more likely to become tiresomely prudish as we move to amend our way of life.

Of course, in our zeal to promote the new "clean livin'" we've just discovered, we end up alienating everyone around us. I know I've slipped into the role of the prig many times, and as I grow in Christ, I'm all the more determined to not let that censoriousness characterize my thinking or my words about other people's behavior. At the same time, when it comes to veganism and animal rights, it's hard. As someone who does believe that all sentient beings -- not just humans -- do have inalienable rights to life and dignity, it's often difficult to find a way to live in loving community with those who find that view preposterous and silly. Watching "Hell's Kitchen" last night, I saw one group of chefs preparing "bacon-wrapped rabbit" as a special dish. Looking at the strips of bacon wrapped around the little chunks of rabbit, I thought about the animals from which those morsels came. I thought about the hogs I've been around and the rabbits I've played with. (Lest you think I'm a purely urban vegan, I've spent a lot of time in my life on ranches and farms. I grew up around 4-H and FFA and have been to countless livestock shows and auctions. I'm not an urban sentimentalist totally ignorant of the realities of farm life.) I thought about the capacity of pigs to nurture and to protect, and the clear and obvious ability of rabbits to experience fear and pain and pleasure. And in order to continue watching the show, I had to shut down that part of me that wanted to scream "How dare you!" at the aspiring chefs. I have vegan acquaintances who won't go to family holidays where meat is served. I know some vegans who have severed all of their close ties with those who continue to eat animal products. They find it too painful to sit at family meals while those whom they love consume the flesh of creatures equally deserving of protection and care. I'm far too committed to my friends and family, far too interested in far too many different types of people to ever cut myself off from someone over their dietary choices.

With my family, we've reached a clear understanding. When we come home for family holidays (such as at Easter this year), we'll bring our own food. No one will beg us to try "just one little bite" of ham or omelette. In turn, we won't begin to hector our loved ones with the usual lines: "Do you have any idea how that was made? Would you be willing to eat it if you saw how that animal was slaughtered?" My wife and I not only sit next to meat-eaters, we even help in preparing dishes filled with animal product (as at the Fourth of July, where I spent over an hour cranking out ice cream I would never taste). We've made a conscious decision to strike a balance between our desire for loving, harmonious relationship with our families and our own commitment to no longer consume animals in any form. It's not as easy as it sounds. Sometimes, the meat eaters around me feel as if they're being silently rebuked. As they slice their steaks and I spoon in my quinoa and broccoli, they look uncomfortable. I make a conscious effort not to stare at their food, I don't make disgusted expressions, I don't use passive-aggressive tactics to communicate disapproval. Nevertheless, I see some folks getting antsy. Often, they'll ask if I'm "okay" with what they're eating; I'm always careful to be reassuring.

At the same time, my veganism is not a value-neutral lifestyle choice. Being a feminist and being anti-racist isn't morally equivalent with being a misogynist bigot. Those of us who fight for justice for women and ethnic minorities want to change hearts and minds and behaviors; we want men to stop abusing women, we want full inclusion for people of color in every aspect of public life. Most of us draw a distinction between someone who says "having toast with peanut butter in the morning is better than having cornflakes, and you can't judge me for that view" and someone who says "raping women is something I prefer to not raping them, and you can't judge me." The latter involves tremendous harm to living beings whose lives have innate value, and so we feel comfortable and right in judging it. So if I believe that pigs and rabbits and cows have a similar innate value to that of a human being, am I not contradicting myself if I reassure my meat-eating friends that they're "okay with me" when I would never offer that same reassurance to a rapist or a racist? Yes, I do want a world where we've minimized the suffering of sentient creatures. I do want a world where we are all surviving and thriving on a plant-based diet, and I am eager to play a role in helping to create the economic systems and the policies that can make veganism as affordable and pleasurable and easy as carniverousness. The cost to the earth (in terms of water and protein, for example) to "factory farm" cows, pigs, sheep, and poultry is colossal and likely unsustainable. The cost in physical suffering is unspeakable, and I do wish those who eat meat would, at the least, imagine the face of the creature whose thighs or hindquarters they are eating. There can be no virtue in deliberate, willfull denial.

At the same time, I'm aware we live in a world trapped in the famous tension between the Already and the Not Yet. I am Already aware, at least I trust I am, of what it is God is calling me to be. I am Already convinced that I am called, and indeed, we all are called, to eat and drink and drive and make love and buy morally. I am Already convinced that to follow Christ is to live a life of courage and radical compassion; I am Already convinced that to live as an authentic feminist is to see that the exploitation of other living creatures for my pleasure is fundamentally unethical. I am Not Yet at the place where I can live this life perfectly, without the occasional small compromises that expose me and others to the charge of hypocrisy. I am Not Yet at the place where I can make the case for Christian feminist veganism without coming across, at least to many, as a charlatan or a fraud or a deluded prude swept up in religious enthusiasm. So I'll keep on keepin' on; that means being cheerful about an undressed salad at an elegant restaurant while those around me nosh on chateaubriand. That means being unapologetic about animal rights while being warm, engaging, and non-judgmental with those who are unwilling to consider my position to be practical or desirable. And it means I'm gonna work on another book proposal one of these days. Working title: "The Winsome Vegan: How to Live Cruelty-Free and Love those Who Don't".

Some Musings on Veganism, “Finikiness,” and Indulging in Omnivory

In the kitchen of my shared apartment in Leipzig, I was forced to behold a disgusting sight and smell. A tomato, a half-eaten container of blueberry yogurt, more yogurt in a glass dish, and a few unopened snacks had been sitting on the countertop for the last four days, apparently left there by a flatmate who had gone on vacation. The tomato and yogurt had of course become moldy and attracted numerous fruit flies, so I grudgingly threw them in the dumpster outside. The remaining question was what to do with the unopened (and therefore unspoiled) items: berry-flavored applesauce, vanilla pudding with whipped topping, and another container of yogurt. I knew that the owner had probably forgotten their existence entirely and might never eat them—after all, they were put there at the same time as all the foul-smelling, spoiled food which was left out so carelessly. Therefore, there seemed to be only two possible courses of action: put them in the refrigerator and hope that the owner would find them eventually, or eat them myself. I did the former with the applesauce and unopened yogurt, which didn’t look that interesting. But the vanilla pudding looked like the ultimate creamy perfection, so I couldn’t resist indulging.

This instance is part of an unfortunate pattern that’s been plaguing me for the past few months: I see an animal-based food, decide that eating it won’t affect the demand much because it’s a small amount and/or I didn’t buy it myself, and my willpower breaks; or I order something at a restaurant which may or may not be vegan, but am too lazy to ask, and it ends up being non-vegan. Thankfully, the pudding incident is the worst of the sins I’ve engaged in, other than a time when I started nibbling some fancy cheese someone had brought to a picnic and ended up eating an amount half the size of a tennis ball. I also admit that part of my lazyness with asking about ingredients at restaurants has to do with being in Germany for the summer, where I don’t speak the language fluently. Yet still I worry that if I don’t bring these habits under control, they will escalate until I find myself knowingly purchasing animal products on my own.

Fortunately, the animal agriculture industry is at least partially right when it condemns small welfare improvements as the beginning of a “slippery slope” toward the banning of animal agriculture, but unfortunately it works the other way too: as soon as a vegan starts eating small amounts of animal products, they’ve put themselves on a dangerous path toward losing their veganism entirely. While I don’t think this will happen to me anytime soon (banning myself from buying animal products, even if I eat things that other people buy, seems straightforward enough), even this prohibition has its gray areas. For example, am I purchasing animal products if I buy a lunch at an all-you-can-eat buffet that contains both vegan and non-vegan items, and then put some non-vegan things on my plate at the last minute?

Calling oneself a vegan, while not being very strict, can also have its public relations problems. Anyone who’s a freegan or a not-so-strict vegan is undoubtedly familiar with the awkward situation that arises when you taste small amounts of animal products in front of people who know you’re vegan. Someone says, “But I thought you were a vegan!” and you’re forced to give a response like, “Well, I’m not always that strict” or “I’m just having a small taste, so it's not really feeding into the demand.” While this may make some almost-ready-to-be-vegans lose some of their fear of commitment, it can make others perceive you as weak-willed, and we don’t want to give omnivores that satisfaction. Not to mention that over time, our small forays into omnivory add up, so it’s not quite true that they have no affect on supply and demand—it’s just a very small effect compared to that of full-fledged omnivores.

Then again, being too strict a vegan can have its drawbacks too. The more “finicky” you are, the more people are going to perceive you as “unreasonable,” and this does not help the public’s perception of an already “fringe” lifestyle. I once made this mistake when I ordered some pasta at an Italian restaurant which wasn’t described on the menu as containing cheese, but it ended up having some sprinkled on top. This was in addition to a salad I had gotten, which automatically came with some milk-based dressing that wasn’t mentioned on the menu. I don’t remember whether the waitress was within earshot, but I do remember expressing my displeasure, and some others at the table immediately accused me of being “ungreatful” for what the cook must have meant as a nice garnish. While I still think my complaint was justified, no one else perceived it that way, so unfortunately I think my cause was hindered rather than helped. This was especially true since the damage, in terms of animal products used, could no longer be undone.

So for all you fellow vegans out there, my advice is this: try to keep your small indulgences in meat, eggs, and dairy to a minimum, but don't make so big a deal about it that the legitimacy of your position is undermined. If you ever get the sense that you’re at the beginning of a “slippery slope” toward non-veganism, that means it’s time to reaffirm where your boundaries are, before it’s too late. But meanwhile, don’t be so dogmatic you turn into a fussy person whom no one wants to emulate.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ban Horse Drawn Carriages in Chicago

As stated in the previous blog post regarding horse-drawn carriages in New York City, this form of "romantic" entertainment is quite popular among tourist activities in popular cities. The abusive treatment, living conditions, dangerous environment, weather extremes, and long work hours that horses are forced to endure, are shielded by the romantic facade of experiencing the city. Fortunately, these practices have been banned in Paris, Toronto, London, Las Vegas, Bejing, Reno, Palm Beach, Key West, Santa Fe, and Oxford. Also, strong campaigns to ban this cruelty against horses are currently active in Rome, New York City, and Chicago. As a resident of Chicago, I am saddened and disgusted to see this abuse practiced in such a seemingly progressive city.

Please click on the following link to sign the online petition: If we reach 1000 signatures, a letter will be sent to Mayor Daley encouraging him to rethink Chicago's participation in horse-drawn carriages.

Also, please contact Chicago 42nd ward alderman, Brendan Reilly, to encourage him to aid in the successful ban of horse-drawn carriages:

311 West Superior, Suite 212
Chicago, IL 60610
Ph: 312-642-4242

If you are a resident of Chicago and would be interested in attending our protests, please email for more information.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Newsflash: Veganism healthful for ALL stages of the life-cycle

The American Dietetic Association, the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, just released its updated position paper on vegetarianism. If you're somebody who advocates for veganism, whether to family and friends or to the public through outreach, this quote is essential to know:

"It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life-cycle including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence and for athletes."

One more nail in the coffin of the popular myth that veganism is inappropriate or dangerous for infants and children.

Farmed Animals and Femininity

“The concealment of breastfeeding rests equally, if not more, on squeamishness relating to bodily function: the fact that food comes out of our bodies is an unsettling thought in a culture that rarely remembers food growing on trees”
--Fiona Giles Fresh Milk [

“Separate lexicons suggest opposite behaviors and attributes. We eat, but other animals feed. A woman is pregnant or nurses her babies; a nonhuman mammal gestates or lactates. A dead human is a corpse, a dead nonhuman a carcass or meat”
--Carol Adams “Foreword” to Animal Equality[

The human breast is a battleground. It is a cultural site at which pervasive dominant discourses in western societies demarcate “nature” from culture and politics, “woman” from man, “Man” from “animal,” spirituality from sexuality, and altruism from self-interest. Just as breasts (generally) come in pairs, so do their culturally conscripted “natures.” The powerful emotions that may be evoked by the sight or touch of the breast may not be solely aesthetic; they may also signify deeper subconscious anxieties over our very identities as men, women, humans, animals, straights or queers.

Further, the female breast has been the site of national and racial politics in which “Others” are to be subordinated to the public pursuits of white men. Within certain practices of “wet-nursing,” some of which continue today, the bodies of poor, black, and “foreign” women as well as dairy cows have been commodified as resources to nurture a new generation who will inherit a great nation, almost always at the expense of the health of such “Others.” Both conceptually and materially, public life, men, whites, and H. sapiens in general are privileged over private life, women, people of color, and “animals.”

Farmed Animals and Femininity
In light of modern Western humans' will to knowledge, power, and meaning, it is not so surprising Carol Linneaus chose to highlight humans' capacity to reason (sapien) as that which separates the men from the animals. Though reason is what makes humans an exceptioanl animal, Linneaus deliberately chose the breast as a marker of human beings' continuity with the animal kingdom. Shiebinger notes that "Linneaus created the term Mammalia in response to the question of humans’ place in nature" so that while "a female characteristic (the lactating mamma) ties humans to brutes... a traditionally male characteristic (reason) marks our separation."[51

Breasts, as organs of the body that function to nurse children, have been historically marked as part of a person’s Species being, a matter of her facticity, or determined nature. As popularly expressed by Simone de Beauvoir in her groundbreaking book The Second Sex (
1949), “giving birth and suckling are not activities, they are natural functions; no project is involved” (94*). Unlike transcendental projects willed by individual human consciousnesses, breasts are more often associated with the immanence of the body because of their relationship to reproduction and the perpetuation of the collective species to which women are forced into servitude. The situation of the (feminine) body even constitutes a detriment to those human projects. “Nursing is also an exhausting obligation,” she writes, as “the nursing mother feeds the newborn at the expense of her own strength” (95*).

In contrast to a male’s freedom and expression which increase with the complexity of their species, a female animal “feels her enslavement more and more keenly, the conflict between her own interests and the reproductive forces is heightened… woman is of all mammalian females at once the one who is most profoundly alienated” (26, 33). As mother, woman is “like a phase of a species… her individual and separate existence merges into universal life. Her individuality is derisively contested by generality” (184). Women, in other words, lose their autonomy and individuality when their bodies conform to their biological function, becoming subsumed into the general species. Though, many feminists may no longer share Beauvoir’s attitude toward the female body today, her attitude generally reflects the metaphysical and material prejudices of modern Western culture.

Perhaps more than people realize, the Species being of women and the construction of femininity are intricately wrapped up in cultural constructions—both material and conceptual—of farmed animals. Just as women have been subsumed by the Species within patriarchy, so have farmed animals within specieisism.

Carol Adams highlights that species is gendered, animals are feminized, and women are animalized.[
52] Particularly, all members of species exploited for their feminine bodies (i.e. eggs, milk) “carry the attribute of the female of the species... unless specifically identified as male.”[53] As Beauvoir stated before her, Adams writes “[t]he generic, unlike mankind, is female… Man transcends species; woman bears it. So do the other animals.” Joan Dunayer likewise notes that
“Whereas other species’ names appear as plurals (‘palm cockatoos’) or follow the (‘the palm cockatoo’), man does not. Frequent capitalization literally elevates Man above other animals. Functioning like a proper name, Man personifies our species as an adult male (13*)
Linguistically, the privilege accorded to “Man” is a site in which sexism and speciesism intersect. While “Man” is proper and particular, women and animals live mere generalized existences. “Man” is unified in his dignified individuality, while women and animals are interchangeable units in a collective.

Although de Beauvoir writes that “The term ‘female’ is derogatory not because it emphasizes woman’s animality, but because it imprisons her in her sex,” she later goes on to describe anthropomorphic vices men have used to describe various female animals—sluggish, eager, artful, stupid, callous, lustful, ferocious, abased—all of which men project unto women (3). Indeed, Dunayer in “Sexist Words, Speciesist Roots” (as well as many other feminist thinkers) have analyzed the intersections between misogynistic and speciesist rhetoric. Terms like catty, shrew, dumb bunny, cow, bitch, old crow, queen bee, and sow are intended, at least originally, to denigrate women, mostly through their analogy to constructions of farmed animals. Women and their lifestyles are also trivialized in the way in which the lives of animals are trivialized. For instance young women are often called chicks while more mature women are said to be old hens who are cooped unless they attend hen parties with their brood.[

The distinction between women’s animality and her imprisonment within her sex is very fine since our understanding of female sexuality is partially influenced by human reproductive management and regimes for female farmed animals. In her essay “Thinking like a Chicken: Farm Animals and the Feminine Connection,” Karen Dawn notes that while many people valorize and sympathize with the plight of “wild” animals, there has been a “culturally-conditioned indifference” toward “domestic” animals. Keystone environmental thinkers have privileged those animals that are “natural, wild, and free” over farmed animals which have supposedly been “bred to docility, tractability, stupidity, and dependency.” Though many men have
traditionally admired and even sought to emulate certain kinds of animals, even as they set out to subjugate and destroy them… they have not traditionally admired or sought to emulate women [or farmed animals]… men essentially give to themselves a new lease to run with the predators, not the prey, and to identify with the "wild" and not the "tame."[55]
Women and farmed animals, both who have been domesticated and valued for their feminine docility, are too boring and slavish to admire and emulate; they lack all that is most valued in modern patriarchy: freedom, power, and intelligence.

Ultimately reduced to edible commodities, farmed animals—even more so than “wild” animals—are also dispossessed of agency and particularity. In being reduced to “meat,” farmed animals lose their particularity, “someone has becomes something, an object with no distinctiveness, no uniqueness, no individuality” [
56]. As Carol Adams observes, “When you add five pounds of hamburger to a plate of hamburger, it is more of the same thing” [56b]. Further, farmed animals lose their agency through the story of meat and milk eating in which “we reposition the animal from subject to object by making ourselves the subject of meat-eating" [57]. Similarly, because of the stories we tell about dairy cows, the embodied subjectivity of cows is elided: “Milking is done to her rather than by her” [54]. No wonder the minds behind Barnyard chose a male gender for its udder-ed protagonist: “the people producing this film didn't think it was possible to have actual female cows being humorous or wild”, after all, cows are dull and boring.[58]

Through the values and prejudices of patriarchy, women have been marked with animality and thus face a similar negative treatment as animals do. At least metaphorically, women too become exchangeable objects whose agency is evicerated through the objectifying, fragmenting, and consuming male gaze. Adams explains that through the metaphor of being “treated like meat,”
[f]eminists have used violence against animals as metaphor, literalizing and feminizing the metaphor…Whereas women may feel like pieces of meat, and be treated like pieces of meat—emotionally butchered and physically battered—animals actually are made into pieces of meat… [this metaphor often results in an] occlusion, negation, and omission in which the literal fate of the animal is elided [57b]
While many people feel that the objectifying and exploitative treatment of animals (i.e. being “treated like meat’) is unjust when applied to human animals, they uncriticaly accept that it is “natural” and right to treat “animals” as such. By doing so, these people do not challenge discrimination, objectification, and exploitation themselves, but only that these acts not be performed against a certain class of privileged subjects.

Beauvoir and the majority of more contemporary femininsts cannot simply elide the risks of dehumanization (a speciesist word) by supporting their defense on the metaphysical foundation of liberal humanism in which humans are either other-than or more-than “animals, but never “mere” animals because they possess self-consciousness. By creating a negative zone of exclusion, the animal body, of which humans transcend, biologist Lynda Birke warns that
we are inevitably going to face problems [because] analogies are drawn between human society and that of other species… if animals are ‘mere’ biology, puppets of their genes, then there will inevitably be inferences made about the mere biology at the heart of human nature.(11*)
The animal body which modern Western people have abjected to form the sanctity of its subjectivity will continually beseeche them, as the abject ceaselessly threatens to collapse the demarcation between it and the demarcating subject.[59] As long as human subjectivity relies upon the abjection and occlusion of “animal” and corporeal subjectivity, those who are marked as closer to animality and corporeality will likely face abject treatment.

This essay was previously posted on HEALTH in the third post in a series on "The Identity Politics of Breasts"

Sunday, July 12, 2009

886 Million Deaths

The other day, a fire ravaged a large battery-cage egg farm in Texas, claiming the lives of 800,000 hens. You probably didn't hear a thing. That's because, as usual, when something like this happens, the coverage was limited to local news outlets. The stories noted that there were no human fatalities and that the company that owns the farm, Cal-Maine Foods, is only experiencing minimal economic damage.

Cramming hundreds of thousands of animals into a handful of cheaply-built sheds on a single property – typical of factory farms – is not only harmful to the animals, the environment, farm workers, and neighboring residents, it's also plainly absurd from a disaster-prevention standpoint. Factory farms are notoriously vulnerable to fires and natural disasters. In 2000, a tornado swept through the largest egg farm in Ohio, nearly decimating the buildings (see picture below). For weeks, over a million hens were stranded - many entangled in the wire mesh of their mangled cages - left to languish without food or water. Aside from a lucky few who were rescued and brought to sanctuary, most starved or were bulldozed or suffocated to death.

What's often most stunning about these disaster stories is the calm acceptance by the producers. The hundreds of thousands of animals killed in the fire represent a fairly disposable fraction of Cal-Maine's "inventory." Furthermore, the company is fully insured for the replacement value, including the losses in production (i.e. the hens). Is it outrageous to speculate that maybe the industry doesn't want to pay for better, safer buildings considering that the inevitable losses resulting from disaster-prone buildings are so trivial?

Looking at the bigger picture, the 800,000 animals that were killed in the blaze are among nearly 1 billion farm animals in the U.S. every year who die before slaughter due to poor conditions, intensive breeding, neglect, mistreatment, and bad management, virtually all preventable deaths. The meat, dairy, and egg industry's cold hearted acceptance of these high mortality rates makes perfect economic sense: reduce fixed costs and maximize overall production, and a few hundred, thousand, or million deaths doesn't hurt the bottom line.

The fact that annually about 886 million animals die horrible deaths from preventable causes is a little known fact that we should work to make common knowledge. Many people who don't find anything wrong with slaughter would be disgusted to learn that hundreds of millions of animals are left to die from disease, injury, squalid conditions, etc. This staggering mortality rate speaks to the ruthless economic logic of industrial animal agriculture where animals are reduced to units of production.

You'll hear industry spokespersons often make the claim that animals must be healthy and happy in order to grow and produce. It is thus, they say, in the best interest of farmers to protect their animals' welfare. The 886 million animal figure defies that claim.

There's nothing we can do for the 800,000 animals who burned to death in the fire. But we can, in time, bring an end to the unspeakable inhumanity of an industry that let it happen and will no doubt let it happen again.

Hens stranded at Buckeye egg farm after a tornado struck in 2000