Vegans of Color

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

Intersectionality Includes Animals January 26, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 3:20 pm

Renee at Womanist Musings says: Vegans, Vegetarians It’s Time To Talk. In the post, she explains the problems she sees with not eating meat, & with veg*ns & animal rights activists.

Anyone who has looked at this blog will see that the bloggers here share many of the same concerns as Renee: the treatment of farm workers (as well as slaughterhouse workers); the sustainability of veganism; PETA (there have been so many posts slamming PETA on this blog I can’t even link them all); racism among vegans & AR activists (ditto); whether a vegan diet is cheaper; how vegan doesn’t always mean “cruelty-free”; factors that affect access to vegan food (this has come up in numerous posts & comments); etc. Royce also wrote an eloquent response to an earlier post on WM about these topics.

The bloggers here see veganism as part of a larger anti-oppression movement. We, too, are frustrated & angered when vegans do not have a similarly intersectional approach.

That said, despite the complications sometimes involved, we are obviously still vegan for a reason.

Two parts of the post struck me particularly: Renee says though she eats meat, she “would certainly not support intentional animal cruelty.” This is something I have heard meat-eaters say not infrequently. Even leaving aside the issue of taking away an animal’s life (if one could leave that out of the equation!), information on how farmed animals are treated (beaks cut off without anesthetic, tails cut off without anesthetic, hung upside down on a slaughtering line & cut open while alive, boiled alive, kicked around by slaughterhouse workers, stuffed in wire cages unable to walk — to name only a few examples) is widely available & has received a lot of attention in the press over the last few years. This information is not a secret.

Intentional animal cruelty is central to the meat industry in places like the US, because it means more animals can be killed faster; to do otherwise would cut into profit. (& “happy meat”? A myth.) I’m not sure how much more intentional one could get.

The second part that struck me was the statement that some veg*ns use “their choices as a stepping ground to moralize to others.” This, too, is something that I have heard used many times in reference to veg*ns, though I’ve also heard similar statements used to critique feminists, anti-racist activists, etc. — it’s very easy to accuse someone of being preachy. I find it frustrating that the dominant ideology — to eat meat, in this case — is not recognized as an ideology, that the status quo is unquestioned & those disagreeing with it can be accused of moralizing while those in line with it are not espousing any moral view at all. (There’s lots about this in the recent book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism, discussed here.) Let’s at least be honest about the fact that the ideology of meat is indeed an ideology, & its proponents can be as moralizing as anyone else.


14 Responses to “Intersectionality Includes Animals”

  1. -- Says:

    Thank you for this!

  2. nakedthoughts Says:

  3. Erica Says:

    Thanks for this post. The article you are referring to is really disappointing. It assumes that vegans are totally one dimensional and attempts to go as far to say that we care more about animals than people (other animals?) . On the one hand, I can understand the confusion, since “AR” groups tend to represent veganism as being all about animals most of the time. I have never met a vegan who thought about their veganism as only having to do with animals (not people, environment etc).

    I did not get through all of the comments, but what is also disappointing is how one vegan said that she (?) values people first, environment second, and animals last. Why the hierarchy? It seems this person is missing the boat. It also bothers me when vegetarians tell meat-eaters that they are veg for reasons other than moral/AR *in attempt to fit in*. Very sad indeed. I believe it was this same person who said that he/she was also mostly *silent* about their veganism.

    Raise your hand if you are a proud vegan! yay.

  4. Erica Says:

    Oh, and criticizing vegans who can’t by fair trade, organic fruit all the time?

    I find that farmer’s markets are the most affordable choice for fair food, but if one can not afford this, then why is this so wrong? Does it have to be all or nothing? At least if someone wants to spare the animals, then they do what they can.

  5. Noemi Says:

    thanks for the food for thought Johanna. What I find especially annoying is when others define why I’m a vegan.

  6. Noemi M Says:

    mmmh, so POC vegans have a voice but not in large enough numbers to be powerful? I’m not throwin in the towel just yet.
    And because the animal rights movement, akin to feminism, centers white folks, we should not participate in ..animal rights..or veganisms… That logic does not compute.

    What I find really interesting when folks use the angle that eating vegan is expensive and that the fruit & vegetables we consume are shipping thousands of miles & that we are consuming the sweat and blood of farm workers (which is not lost to us, as we’ve brought it up here before & hello I have farm worker blood) is-where is the meat you are buying coming from? On the fair wages & farm workers, if you think meat packing plants treat workers any better or are without the abuses of farm workers, you are mistaken.
    *thats my opinion as a blogger from the tokenized vegans of color blog.

    • johanna Says:

      Noemi — I KNOW RIGHT? Augh. I loved that one comment that was like, stop leaving one token link to a VOC blog, obviously implying that we weren’t numerous enough to make the point that vegans of color exist. Or that b/c we weren’t there ourselves commenting (I see now that comments are shut off, anyway) we don’t exist? Maybe we don’t exist anyway. Or we don’t matter b/c PETA is louder than us.

      And yeah, like someone in the comments over there pointed out, it’s not like meat-eaters don’t eat tomatoes as well, so… you can’t really pin the food miles of tomatoes exclusively on vegans!

  7. Jillian Says:

    I’m really not sure what to make of the fact that Renee has disabled further commenting on the post. I was glad that she was finally opening this topic up for discussion, only to realize that she really wasn’t and, ultimately, it’s disappointing that she didn’t care enough to come to veg*ns of color when choosing to discuss racism within the veg community despite the fact that she has been opening up her space to guest blogging. In light of her decision to close comments, I see Renee bringing this topic up not so much as genuine engagement as “You’re in my living room. STFU,” which is clearly her prerogative, but it’s disappointing since the issue could use addressing.

    Because I spent some time crafting this reply, I might as well inflict it upon someone for debate. I went into food production issues more, but, you know . . . choir. I have to admit I felt pushed by her post to contemplate why POC are such easy targets for the vegan community at large. I attempted to write:

    “Frankly, I think the tendency many white people have in the vegan movement to pile upon POC is linked to the desire *not* to be viewed as moralizing. Because many people don’t feel comfortable engaging friends or family or people who look like their friends or family, POC are an easy target. I’ve been in forums where I’ve watched people revel in taking Jennifer Lopez when she was more culturally relevant down a couple of notches for wearing fur without even mentioning someone like Anna Wintour. People who won’t ask their best friends to eat at restaurants where they can also find food, their grandmothers to leave chicken stock out of mashed potatoes for Christmas dinner so there is one item they can eat, or their boyfriend to stop telling them that Hitler was a vegetarian, didn’t take but two seconds to decide to whip out their Sharpies and create signs to vilify Michael Vick. It was sort of surreal to watch people I thought were my friends brandishing pitchforks without acknowledging that there is already a script on file for white mobs and black men. It was particularly challenging because I’m not convinced people who are vegan ought be making a distinction between dogs and pigs, so what does it even mean that people who don’t ride their friends for eating a pork chop are willing to gang up on an anonymous black man for fighting dogs, something even Chris Rock touched upon: However, my ability to articulate what made me uncomfortable about seeing people I had supported and befriended rush to judgment took years for me to get to, so I chose to withdraw from the community instead.”

    *** As an aside, discussion of “intentional cruelty” in US factory farming may not be germane to the discussion as you frame it here because Renee lives in Canada and there may be distinctions with respect to where and how Canadians source animal products.

    • johanna Says:

      Hi Jillian — I said “places like the US” because my understanding is that factory farm issues are similar in Canada & in the UK, for example. Though I welcome corrections if I’m wrong. I knew Renee lives in Canada, which is why I phrased it like that, though perhaps I still didn’t get my point across that I didn’t, actually, mean just the US.

      • Jillian Says:

        I only added the qualification because I’ve not done any research into any farming in Canada, nor have I stumbled across much discussion online focusing on the systems there and I’m wary of making assumptions in absentia. It’s entirely possible that either Canada has a similar structure to ours or they import enough products from the US to have essentially adopted US methods. I, for one, was surprised at the radical difference in much European farming when I first started to encounter descriptions/discussions of it and I think what her country does is important with respect to what systems she may/may not be personally participating in. It seemed to me that you were making a generalization based on an assumption of shared likeness between the two countries. This is probably just a knee jerk reaction to the fact that it seems like whenever an omni and a veg start to discuss veg*m, someone always looks for the one hole even if it’s irrelevant to the discussion.

    • Zarah Says:

      As a Canadian vegan living in a somewhat agricultural town I have to say intentional cruelty, even by welfare standards, is still very much relevant to our forms of animal husbandry.

      First, loads of undercover footage from Mercy for Animals Canada proves this, but I have anecdotal evidence.

      I go to a high school in my city, and when I where vegan tee shirts, conversations, sometimes based on ridicule, sometimes respect and curiosity, often occur. In one such conversation, I found a boy describing how the male chicks on his farm were killed as “they aren’t alive when we grind them up, while they go in head first.”

      I have a friend (a tentative friendship) who owns a dairy farm. He describes disposing of the male calves as sending them off to be farmed for semen. However, he knows another farmer who smashes their heads in with a hammer.

      Note the incidents described above probably don’t even count as “factory farming.” I live in a small agricultural area, where they would probably be described as “happy farms.”

      In conclusion, while there is some differences, (example no bovine growth hormones in our milk), Canada isn’t that different from the states. Sorry for the little tangent 😉

  8. TeriSaw Says:

    I just found out about this whole… well not sure what to call it. Immediate thoughts were of the straw-vegan that was seemingly presented, the assumption that eating vegan means you think you are doing “everything” right and the misinformation about human dietary requirements never changing in the comments (actually we used to make our own Vitamin C) luckily this was touched upon by other commentators as well as yourself.I come from farm workers as well, so I don’t appreciate people saying I’m not thinking about them, as if I couldn’t.
    I know this comment was bit of a hodge-podge, but basically I’m saying thanks for addressing this.

  9. […] at Vegans of Color sums up her feelings on the easy attack of calling vegans preachy: I find it frustrating that the […]

  10. Hi Johanna,

    Excellent blog post! I added your voice to the ANTI-slavery quotes page at Vegans For Peace:

    P.S., I also added your site’s link to the Resources section.

    Warm regards,

    Randy W. Sandberg

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