Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

“Anyone should be able to tell other countries NOT to eat creatures” September 13, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 9:09 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Remember Kinship Circle’s colonialist campaign to get Western vegans to tell Korea & the Philippines to cease the dog meat trade? (There’s also a follow-up post.)

I see echoes of this same thinking in a recent post on Vegan Verve. After writing about Japanese dolphin slaughter, the blogger received a comment noting that in the US, lots of animals are slaughtered for food, sometimes in “crazy” ways. And furthermore:

Just because the Japanese are particularly exotic, particularly non-Western, we think we can criticize their traditions when it comes to food. They shouldn’t be eating dolphin or whale because, according to our Western upbringing, those are not animals that are to be eaten. The Koreans shouldn’t be eating dog, and the Chinese shouldn’t be eating anything that moves.

What the Japanese do when it comes to whales and dolphins is cruel and horrible, and poses a serious threat to the continuation of certain species (they overfish a lot too; global tuna populations, other fish are in trouble too), but there is a cultural angle too, and I don’t think it’s our place to tell them what they shouldn’t be eating. Hopefully before too long some groups will arise within Japan to protest this – when Japanese tell Japanese not to hunt and kill dolphins this way, and that they refuse to eat whale or dolphin, then things can change. (emphasis mine)

This, as you may recall, was my point in the earlier post about Kinship Circle: we in the West feel it’s our high-and-mighty duty to go & tell other countries, with which we have had an adversarial & racist relationship, what to do. Instead of listening to local activists & supporting them if & when they request it (& in the manner they request), US activists love to barge in, without thought to cultural context or self-determination & autonomy for folks in the countries they’re horning in on. (& yeah, go figure, the whole exotification thing makes it a lot easier to point fingers at OMG those weird savage people!)

In response to the commenter’s critique, the blogger replies:

Actually I quite disagree with you. I do believe that anyone should be able to tell other countries NOT to eat creatures, OF ANY KIND. Being vegan, I don’t quite understand why you would base your response on game meat in the U.S. and non-Western countries. Do you honestly believe that I am not against ALL animals being eaten?

Sigh. Gosh, do you honestly believe that I’m not against animals being eaten, either? And yet, I still find this quote incredibly offensive. Go figure.

The blogger also wonders:

Why the hell are there so many damn delicacies in Japan and other similar countries, and why do they mainly focus around poor animals? Does the United States have supposed delicacies that I am not aware of?

How about foie gras, among other “damn delicacies” eaten in the US? Many US vegans are aware of foie gras & legislative campaigns to outlaw it, for example. & what does “similar countries” mean? Scary “exotic” countries? Where people eat kerrrrrrazy things, unlike the US? What?

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23 Responses to ““Anyone should be able to tell other countries NOT to eat creatures””

  1. Doris Says:

    These campaigns get even more offensive when we’re told to protest dog eating by picketing outside of the Korean consulate, or in front of Kia car dealerships. As if the entire Korean culture should be condemned. I once had an online discussion about this with other animal activists, and someone replied, “It’s not a stereotype – those people really do eat dogs!” Totally did not get it.

    How about these delicacies: veal, caviar, smoked salmon, lobster, steak tartare, goat cheese, etc.

    Also, notice how they always focus on Japan when they talk about whaling. Why do they so rarely mention that Iceland and Norway are also still whaling? Because it’s so much easier to demonize people of color. If AR groups asked people to protest Norwegian whaling, most Americans would probably defend the practice and say it’s part of Norway’s culture. But if Japan is whaling, it’s that much easier to point a finger and condemn those horrible yellow people, because “Japan and other similar countries” don’t care about animals.

  2. veganverve Says:

    I would like to point out that I was focusing on topic at the moment, and that was a protest revolving around Japanese Dolphin Day. I have no prejudice towards anyone of color, Japanese or otherwise, I do however have prejudice towards meat eaters. I simply prefer to talk about one topic at a time, just as today I spoke about puppy mills in the USA. Another time I spoke about cattle raised in the USA. I simply was trying to bring to light the atrocities that occur to whales, and my method of doing that was by letting people know about Japanese Dolphin Day. I only pointed out “delicacies” such as whale meat to bring to light the fact that these animals’ numbers are declining greatly, yet still being eaten. You cannot say the same for veal, steak, goat cheese, or the poor geese involved in foie gras (btw since it was popularized in France, I never have considered it a U.S. delicacy, but perhaps it could be considered that). In no way am I condoning the eating of ANY creature (whether they be endangered or not) or trying to be prejudice against any ethnicity. As in my comment to the person who commented, I did point out many of the things that need to be changed in the USA as well as in other countries. If everyone is always saying how the world is one and how we should all work together to solve problems, then why can’t a girl in the USA care about Japan whaling? Just because I am not Japanese? So absolutely no one in a foreign country can have an opinion about factory farming in the USA? Or puppy mills in the USA? Insanity! At least if people in other countries’ care, it might bring it to the forefront in the USA, or whatever country is in question. Whether anyone likes it or not, we are all connected and the creatures on this planet need to be protected from EVERYONE, USA-Japan-Canada etc. etc.. It is completely ridiculous that this could be pinpointed as offensive. Since it is dietary, it is offensive? What about when there are human atrocities in other countries? Aren’t other countries expected to step in and help when one group is slaughtering the other group of people? But the same cannot be said about ANIMALS?

  3. Leslie Says:

    I think “Westerners” get involved in whaling in Japan, Norway, Iceland and other countries because some of the whales slaughtered are endangered or have become endangered due to over whaling. AR groups go after Japan as well as European countries like Iceland and Norway. Perhaps Japan is a focal point in some ways because they try to get around the International Whaling Committee’s (IWC) rules by calling for commercial whaling in large numbers thinly disguised as scientific research. Or because they have been said to offer aide to countries in return for their support in the IWC. It’s safe to say that many countries – not just western countries are opposed to whaling. Whales swim in international waters and travel the world putting them at risk by those who want to hunt them.

    I dislike that dog is on the menu in other countries, but I don’t dislike it more than pig being offered in our own. If this post was just about dog, than maybe I would have agreed that Westerners indignation is hypocritical and we should shut up. But when you put endangered species on the table, it becomes a global responsibility. Because it effects the ocean and the world on a global level. It’s not about being indignant on the type of creature killed – the USA can’t be the ethics police mostly because we have terrible ethics as a nation when it comes to food. But the fact that MANY countries can get together on certain issues makes me happy, not mad. I disagree that we should leave Japan to it’s own internal politics because as Westerners we have no right to put in our two cents. What happens in someone else’s borders effects what happens in mine. What happens in whaling nations, effects whales all over the world, not just in Japan or other whaling nations. However I do think you’re right that it would be better if pressure was put on the Japanese gov by the Japanese people. Just like Ethiopians brought back the Walia Ibex when their numbers dwindled and they realized that conservation had to come from within. And there is internal pressure coming from the Japanese people. But help from other countries can only help their cause. We do not live in isolation. And international issues are more complex than simply avoiding entering the international debate because of the racial stereotypes westerners might put on a people.

    All whaling is not outlawed. Hell, we do it in Alaska, but we don’t make a fuss about that because to a certain degree it is a part of the lives of local people. Just like it is in Japan. But when countries want to over whale or kill more than the allotted amount, we have a problem.

    Westerners certainly go after Canada for the seal hunt every year, and that’s a country with which we share many many things and easily relate to. And I don’t think AR people should avoid putting in their two cents or protesting products from another country just because they are different from us, or we perceive them as different or exotic. An issue is an issue no matter who lives where.

  4. johanna Says:

    veganverve — Did you read the earlier posts linked about the Korean dog meat issue? What do you know about colonialism, race, & imperialism? Because the fact that you suggest that it would be exactly analogous to have someone outside the US critique the US implies to me that you know very little.

  5. johanna Says:

    Leslie — There’s a difference between not entering “the international debate” & doing so in a way that is helpful, respectful of other cultures & people (particularly the ones in the country allegedly being helped), & that doesn’t come wrapped in language that exotifies & stereotypes.

  6. johanna Says:

    Doris — Kia dealerships??? Oh, tell me you’re kidding! Holy crap. & yeah, the “but they really do eat dog!” thing is so not helpful. EyeROLL.

  7. Axel Says:

    I just found this blog last week through Feministe, and I’ve been enjoying it immensely. :)

    Regarding the question at hand, it’s quite a tricky one. I think part of the problem arises from the fact that we’re not fighting for our own rights, but for the rights of subaltern individuals that have no ability to speak their mind. We try to be a voice for opressed animals, but we have no experience of being (percieved as) animals.

    Just as the colonialist (to quote Spivak) is a “white m[a]n saving brown women from brown men”, as veg*ns we are to some extent in the same predicament. This requires further thought, thanks for bringing up the Issue!

  8. Gary Says:

    I want to advocate for all animals on this planet suffering from humans who inflict avoidable harm upon them. How can I do that in a way that is also mindful of other cultures?

    When is it permissable to criticize activities practiced by other cultures? If I condemn cockfighting, am I being biased against Cajun culture? If I protest against Kapparot chicken-swinging am I being insensitive to Orthodox Jews? Are there values that transcend culture?

    I spend most of my advocacy energy on domestic issues because I know those best and probably have the most impact there. I spend no small amount of time criticizing the American meat-industrial-pharmaceutical complex. But I feel I cannot ignore the seals in Canada, the dogs in Korea, the foxes in England, and the cats in China.

    I donate to groups like International Aid for Korean Animals (IAKA), and sometimes send correspondence to Korean officials on IAKA’s request. But what if, on my own, I want to respond to, say, an article defending dog-eating as an internal affair?

    Often, people of any culture will defend cruel traditions by invoking “heritage.” How do I speak on behalf of the animal victims of that heritage without belittling the heritage as a whole?

  9. Noemi M Says:

    veganverve said:
    I simply prefer to talk about one topic at a time
    That is exactly why we are here with this blog, the tag line being “Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue.”

  10. I don’t think it’s offensive to speak out against animal exploitation. I feel more a part of the vegan/ AR culture than a part of the North American culture and I oppose all animal exploitation, regardless of where it happens.

    In fact, I find the assumption that there aren’t already people in Japan fighting dolphin slaughter offensive.

    I think the major problem arises when privileged animal advocates ignore their own hypocrisy and attack other cultures. I don’t think it’s wrong for vegans to advocate for animals in other cultures, particularly when humans in those cultures have fewer rights to advocate for animals, as in the case of China, but I do have a problem with meat-eaters who simply don’t like it when dogs, cats, or dolphins are eaten in other cultures. They ignore their own complicity in animal exploitation and they abuse their privilege to impose their animal value-ranking system on other people. It’s oppressive and wrong.

    And I can see your point that our privilege necessarily seeps into our activism. White, North American, middle-class, educated vegans have a perspective that can be oppressive. It’s unfortunate and real. However, that’s not a result of our veganism or animal advocacy, it’s a result of our society.

    What do you think of this:
    “Who is killing the dolphins in Japan?
    One often encounters this statement: “The Japanese are killing the whales and dolphins!” But it is not the Japanese people who are doing this. The slaughter of dolphins in the small fishing village of Taiji, for example, is carried out by about 26 fishermen. They kill the dolphins with a permit from their government. The majority of people in Japan are totally unaware of this annual government-sanctioned dolphin blood bath.”
    “The desire to keep the dolphin population down is a major reason why the Japanese government is so keen on issuing permits for the hunts. It is not really about providing meat for the Japanese people. It is not really about maintaining what the fishermen repeatedly refer to as their “tradition or “culture.” It is about eradicating as many dolphins as possible in order to make the oceans’ fish available to themselves.”
    from: http://www.savejapandolphins.org/faq.php

    or this: “The Japanese people don’t need a boycott. They need access to the information that we take for granted. If they knew the truth about the dolphin slaughter, they would help abolish it. The men who hunt and kill dolphins in Taiji agree with us. They revealed this during a meeting with them at Taiji City Hall. When we told them we had come to Taiji to document the dolphin massacres and let the Japanese people know the facts about the hunt, this is the reaction we received:
    ‘The Japanese people have no right to know about the dolphin slaughter. It is none of their business.’
    But the Japanese people have every right to know the truth. ”
    from: http://www.savejapandolphins.org/workingwith.php
    Just like many Americans don’t know about factory farming, neither do many Japanese know about dolphin slaughter. But they do deserve to know.
    Perhaps, though, they should hear it from other Japanese people rather than outsiders.

    Or how about this:
    “The first thing that is crucial to dealing with the horror of the dolphin killing in Japan is to be absolutely clear that it is not the Japanese people who are committing these atrocities. But the Japanese government does support this business as well as whaling. And American and other foreigners are complicit in these slaughters.”
    “What drives the killings and training/export business is the explosion of demand for dolphins for swim-with programs and for dolphinaria around the world, particularly in Asian nations. When people swim with the always “smiling” dolphins or see them in shows jumping through burning hoops, they should know these dolphins are often survivors of the brutal drive fisheries in Japan in which dozens or hundreds of their pod mates have been killed.”
    from: http://www.bluevoice.org/sections/dolphins/incite.shtml
    Tourism, which both aides and harms a culture is partially responsible for this problem. Since Americans are part of the problem, we should have a right to criticize it and advocate for animals.
    “A live dolphin sold to a dolphinarium brings in a much higher profit than does a dead dolphin sold as meat.”
    from: http://www.savejapandolphins.org/faq.php

    “The concentrations of pollutants in whales and dolphins is not only sufficient to demand an immediately end to their consumption by humans – and thus their killing in the first place. It is also an indication of the ever increasing pollution of the oceans. It is a tragic irony that the arguement that we not kill dolphins and whales includes the fact that we have contaminated the seas to such an extent that these creatures are dangerous to eat.”
    from: http://www.bluevoice.org/sections/dolphins/toxin.shtml
    It sounds like an “I know better than you so I’ll tell you how to live,” but it’s actually against Japanese law to sell dolphin meat for human consumption. It’s not part of Japanese culture to eat dolphins.

  11. sorsofilia Says:

    Wasn’t Johanna just acknowledging the echoes of colonialist thought and language in the comment? And also acknowledging that we should respond to requests for help? Which, as Elaine pointed out, there would more requests for help or more action being taken by the Japanese people if they just knew what was going on? I think VeganVerve might have got on the defensive without understanding what problem Johanna was really addressing.

  12. johanna Says:

    I find it interesting that when I bring up the issue of different cultures, people seem to jump immediately to the conclusion that I mean the issue of whether or not eating dolphin is tradition in Japan. What about, oh, cultural differences involving expressing dissent, protesting, changemaking? Ways of expression differ from culture to culture; tactics used in the US are very often inappropriate in other cultures.

  13. No one is suggesting we go to Japan and protest there. Rather, Japan Dolphin Day “action” includes writing letters to the Japanese government, to the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and participating in demonstrations in our own countries.

  14. johanna Says:

    & no one is suggesting that activist tactics that might be culturally specific ONLY include on the ground mass demonstrations in the country in question. My comment still stands.

  15. Nella Says:

    To be fair, there has been a concerted effort by British activists to boycott products from Norway and Iceland over the whale hunts by those countries and Canada because of the seal cull. Although I do find that many of the products named by IFAW and so on are non-vegan ones (Primula cheese, Nutrogena skincare, prawns, fish and various things involving feathers), so it hasn’t impinged on my life a whole lot.

  16. Doris Says:

    Veganverve – the Beluga sturgeon is now endangered because of the caviar trade, and not all species of whales are endangered. So your distinction between whale meat and other “delicacies” does not hold water.

    Also, the difference between human atrocities and animal atrocities is that no culture condones or embraces human atrocities. When we campaign against international human atrocities, it’s always clear that they are being committed by a powerful minority that does not represent the will of the people, whether that minority is a powerful dictatorship or a guerilla army. But animal atrocities of all sorts are embraced by cultures all over the world, so it is unfair to (1) imply that an entire culture is somehow uniquely or especially cruel to animals, and (2) demonize a group because they are underrepresented in the US and easy to demonize.

  17. supernovadiva Says:

    let’s sweep around our own porch first

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080916/ap_on_el_pr/palin_bridge_to_wasilla;_ylt=AlaH9nhsiqeJx9u.6VXJ9icEtbAF

    there’s a blurb at how building this bridge endangers the beluga whales.

  18. sorsofilia Says:

    johanna – I didn’t have any specific kind of action in mind. It’s a blank space in my brain when I think about tactics for use in other countries. I know what I probably won’t get killed for in the United States, but not really the slightest about what would get a person living in another country in trouble. That’s enough for me to realize there’s a whole culture behind changemaking which differs as you cross ‘borders’.

  19. [...] racist programming on Animal Planet. Here’s a snippet particularly relevant to my recent post about colonialist framings of Japanese dolphin slaughter: It goes without saying that no one should shoot or otherwise be cruel to a dog, and that [...]

  20. indo Says:

    For some background on these issues….
    There is an excellent chapter in the book “Japanimals” (edited by 2 U.S.-based Japanese Studies scholars named Pflugfelder and Walker) that discusses the history of whaling in Japan. The chapter, if I remember right, traces the politics of whaling in relation to Japan’s closed door policy of the 19th century. Japanese adoption of U.S. and European whaling techniques was instrumental in promoting changes that ended the closed door policy and established new contacts between Japan and the US. Yet it was not until WWII, when food became scarce, that whale meat became a common food. I think the chapter also claimed that whaling was encouraged under the postwar US occupation. Articles I’ve read elsewhere also discuss the consumption of whale meat as related to the memory of the wartime era and may thus be directly related to US power.

  21. [...] yeah, & what about when veg*ns criticize dog- and cat-eating? It’s so often steeped in colonial racist attitudes. To quote Angry Asian Man again: “The insinuation is that [Chinese] restaurants [that serve [...]

  22. [...] posted before about my discomfort with the rhetoric of the anti-whaling [...]

  23. Ericka Says:

    I am vegetarian and Japanese. I am against all types of animal cruelty including slaughtering (any) animal. Having said that growing up in Japan, I have never seen or eaten dolphin or whale. I have never seen dolphin or whale meat anywhere in markets. So my understanding is that Japan as a whole does not support or practice whaling. I agree to the author that International effort to ban whaling does have an imperialistic tone to it. Most of the countries that have been especially vocal against whaling have been past colonial powers which in general have characterized their subjects as savage or uncivilized while they practice animal cruelty as a part of their refined cultural practice. I would think to put a definite end to the animal cruelty, we need to change people’s mindset about animal rights and leading people by example, not pointing finger at easy targets.


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