Start Your World Vegan Month at Wildflower Vegan Cafe
What’s Up? Enjoy cake and a cup of fair-trade coffee or a hearty vegan meal at Wildflower on the first Saturday in November, when I’ll facilitate a slideshow and conversation on Cuteness and Memes in Animal Advocacy.
Where? Wildflower Vegan Cafe, Village on High, Millville, NJ. 856.265.7955
When? 4 pm on Saturday 5 November 2016
We’ve all seen “Why love one but eat the other” images. Indeed, why do we love a puppy yet have no regrets when it comes to eating the calf? Then again…
Does setting the ideal in “loving” animals compromise nonhuman dignity? What can other social movements teach us about these idealized images?
Eric Nyman, owner of Wildflower Vegan Café, said, “Our business is nurturing bodies and minds. We’re excited to open November, which has traditionally been World Vegan Month, by offering space for Lee’s work on memes—inviting advocates and the public to consider how feel-good imagery might endorse exploitation.”
This graduation season, Michelle Obama gave a commencement speech for the City University of New York. The country’s largest urban public university, CUNY is historically dedicated to bolstering opportunities for people of modest backgrounds. Michelle Obama’s speech, at CUNY’s flagship City College in the Harlem District of Manhattan, lauded this year’s graduates for their own struggles. But the bright-pink elephant in the room—City College reportedly makes higher-than-average use of both part-time and adjunct teaching staff—never got a mention.
. . .At this time, knowledge is critical to a public understanding of civilization-threatening problems. A 2014 Pew Research survey showed that most people who’ve attained a college degree know that global warming is driven by human activity, while most people without that education do not.
And if this is so, higher education matters urgently to sound politics.
But opportunities to contribute to society, its knowledge, and its policies are being denied to current and future teachers and researchers.
Meanwhile, people positioned to change this are speechifying at commencements.
Read this piece in full in today’s edition of CounterPunch.
Yes, I’m in. Let’s put an end to non-military availability of military-style weapons.
And what of the military use of military-style weapons?
And the use of weapons for terrorizing the other animals in our midst?
How about we put an end to heterosexism, domestic violence, rape culture, hatred against queers or anything perceived as queer? Could we stop requiring everyone to mark “female” or “male” boxes, in light of the way this binary has so long negated the relationships of, and otherwise obstructed, so many people in so many times and places, even resulting in medically prescribed physical harm? Female and male are not absolute categories, and the binary fails a humanity striving to be all we’re meant to be.
How about we make solid efforts to show respect for Latinx, for the LGBTQIA movement, for Muslim communities, for non-citizens?
Consider that we needn’t identify ourselves in terms of nationality, and thus needn’t be involved in a constant reconstitution of enemies which this social construct generates. That we could transcend bordered societies.
And how about we cut out bullying, and teaching bullying at home? How about we rid our everyday, continuing history of the classism that systematically denies creative self-expression to the majority of people?
How about we refuse to accept captivity and habituation of other animal communities as a human prerogative?
How about we respect everyone’s interest in living their way, unmolested, expressing themselves creatively as they were meant to do, and support them in doing it?
How about we stop investing in win-lose scenarios and essentially meaningless competitions and quests for social prestige at the expense of lives of genuine collaboration? Let’s try a little tenderness before we cook the Earth’s biosphere to a crisp, shall we?
Without human decency and mutual support, and empathy for each other and a sense of connection with all consciousness, how can we ever transcend the “I’ve got mine” mentality to save what we love, even love itself?
And right this moment: Listen. You don’t threaten, as Hillary did, to “ramp up” military strikes against a place, a community (even as The Donald seized the moment to emit yet another rant against human migration), because someone’s home-grown soul in Orlando, Florida was so unhinged as to turn a safe space for queer people into their death trap.
Listen. You don’t get to use an attack on queer people to threaten violence on some other community. You don’t exploit the hurting of people who have taken down gender-based social walls in order to fortify your nation-based ones. Enough blood has flowed.
The green stripe in the rainbow flag means nature. The use of military weapons on so-called foreign nations destroys safe spaces for someone’s children, for other conscious beings, and for the biosphere that’s home to all. Disrespect that biosphere, and you disrespect an integral element of the pride movement.
Red stands for life, orange for healing. Yellow stands for sunlight. Blue is for harmony. Purple, for spirit.
The banner of nation-based bullying can’t hold a candle to this.
How time flies. I Am an Animal: The Story of Ingrid Newkirk and PETA (Stick Figure Productions for HBO®, a division of Time Warner) is now eight years old. Its website labels it “unavailable” (though it can still be found).
Yet a biopic of Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) since its founding in 1980, remains significant in the story of animal advocacy. And this film speaks to an ever-relevant topic: the effects of emotionally charged rhetoric and images of animal abuse. As I’ve noted at the Species and Class blog, many animal charities employ graphic video footage of industrial animal handling. I’ve also briefly noted this in the newly published On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century, citing this biopic. Here, then, is a brief exploration of the biopic and what it might tell us about popular advocacy.
I Am an Animal begins by recounting Newkirk’s role in the documentation of animal handling in a Maryland primate laboratory, focusing on filth and untreated wounds, and the subsequent prosecution, which got attention “like no other anti-cruelty group had done.” Newkirk, who was a Maryland law enforcement officer and a director of animal cruelty investigations in Washington, D.C., had found a calling. PETA was born.
Early in the film Newkirk invokes the day when everyone will think animals are not ours to eat, wear or experiment on, borrowing a slogan then associated with the British Union of the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), whose simple magazines and straightforward messages PETA closely mimicked in the early eighties. By the nineties, PETA’s magazine had gone glossy, and high-profile media stunts became the group’s hallmark.
I PROVOKE, THEREFORE I AM
According to filmmaker Matthew Galkin’s Press Notes: “PETA is aggressive and its marketing tactics are obscene and offensive to a lot of people. Yet Ingrid has grown PETA into the largest animal rights group in the world.”
As for the “obscene and offensive” Newkirk explains: “Everybody is obsessed with sex and obsessed with violence”; so PETA’s choice “is no attention or some attention.” Galkin introduces the audience to PETA’s Milk Gone Wild, a rejected Super Bowl anti-milk video. Remember that one? PETA promoted it by exclaiming: You won’t BELIEVE what we’ve packed into this video! You’ll see the HOTTEST girls baring it all – AND MORE!!! No rules, no parents, no limits, and of course no cows. The sexism has continued for years in PETA’s public campaign designs: the need to be “edgy” supposedly dictates sexual objectification and even jokes about gendered violence.
Another of Galkin’s scenes has Newkirk reviewing a staffer’s proposal for PETA’s Animal Liberation (“Are Animals the New Slaves?”) display, juxtaposing pictures of a hoisted steer and a lynching. When a media-relations employee asks if the slavery exhibition should avoid the use of Holocaust images, Newkirk says it would be fine to use them as well, especially if they happened to find a “super-duper one.” In this film we learn a lot about how it became accepted, and then routine, for campaigners to replicate the traumas of subjects – human or not – who can’t consent to being displayed as victims. Today, this routine is confronted by writers such as Claire Heuchan at Media Diversified, observing that “Black experience is regularly placed on a par with animals as a provocation.”
JUST A THING
Newkirk’s home – perhaps to the surprise of viewers who associate advocacy with rescue – isn’t shared with any other animals. Newkirk says people “should work to help them” and not “accumulate them” – neglecting the reality of homeless domesticated animals as our refugees, our asylum seekers.
Newkirk’s “work to help them” includes killing, as the film then shows. In North Carolina, Newkirk approaches an underfed dog. “You look like like a sorry soul!” Newkirk quizzes the owner quickly, several times interrupting the answers, then sets down a bowl of food and tells the owner, a soft-spoken person with dreadlocks, that the dog has a serious case of worms. After offering the owner free veterinary care – “We have to sign him over for that. Let me get my clipboard” – Newkirk takes the dog.
In the van, Newkirk comments, “He’s just a thing. He’s one more thing that they have, I think. Sort of a passing nice idea, you’ve got yourself a pet. But the reality of care is – not understood.” Yet the ultimate proof that you’re a “thing” is that somebody can destroy you. And this is exactly what Newkirk proceeds to do. At PETA’s headquarters, where the dog is found to have an abnormal red blood cell count in addition to worms, Newkirk directs an employee to kill the dog. No one tries to communicate with the dog’s owner in more than the authoritative language of the expert assuming control. PETA’s dual message is clear: Some people shouldn’t have animals. Advocates perform a lethal kind of sanitation role.
THE KILLING FLOOR
Then we watch the filmmaker filming another filmmaker. Chris, a young PETA employee, is tapped to videotape a ConAgra site where turkeys are slaughtered for the Butterball brand. On the killing floor – where, from dawn to dusk, a four-person team works the shackles to process some 50,000 bird into bodies every day – Chris breaks down and can’t run the hidden camera. Galkin’s crew films the two-month period in which Chris descends into despair.
Though Chris’s constant technical failures suggest a gut resistance to an active role in violence, Newkirk is not impressed. “We can’t afford to just lollygag around with some young person who can’t get their act together .” By failing to produce what Newkirk wants, “he’s screwing the birds over.”
A more experienced infiltrator is deployed to catch the company’s violations of the Arkansas anti-cruelty statues and the Poultry Inspection Act. A press conference is planned. Whereas Newkirk says footage of abuse has the potential to change the world, the group doesn’t challenge the agricultural use of birds or animals generally; the articulated idea is to score a victory with a big company, and on the grounds that workers in the investigated plant have inflicted “gratuitous” harm. Butterball assures PETA that if there is any abuse found, they’ll fire the employees responsible.
PETA’s street campaigners then convey PETA’s mixed message: “Like a free DVD?” “Boycott Butterball; we found them molesting birds at a processing plant in Ozark.” “Go vegetarian this holiday, but at the least don’t support Butterball.” So, what does animal advocacy want?
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
When Newkirk hugs a designer who promises to use no wool in a coming season, fashion mogul Marc Bouwer qualifies the vow as meaning products of the Australian Wool Industry – a particular business group PETA has targeted. “We definitely won’t use wool from Australia, that’s for sure!”
Again, what does animal advocacy want?
Newkirk’s PETA, for all its brashness, can’t give a clear response. The PETA website suggests that a “perfect world” of freedom for horses isn’t possible, so just don’t use whips and spurs, for “gentle methods can be employed to teach a horse to allow a rider on his or her back.”
Newkirk states that PETA’s “main goal is to stop suffering, as much suffering as we possibly can” but isn’t too interested in animals living in their free, uncontrolled states. When a staffer shows Newkirk footage of a person hitting tigers, Newkirk first says, “Do we have more of this?” and then stops short. “I am deeply worried,” Newkirk says, “because we keep doing these investigations into exotics, and it’s all worthwhile…but the one thing that everybody needs to get involved in is empathy with the animals they eat and don’t think twice about”; and attention is redirected to assembly-line turkey processors. Then, evidently lumping all undomesticated animals into a cute class, Newkirk says, “All animals feel – not just the cute ones with the big eyes, not the fluffy bears, and the smiley dolphins, but all the animals.”
But animal liberation isn’t a movement to make conscious beings feel better in captivity. It involves opting out of animal agribusiness, not ensuring workers follow the Poultry Inspection Act; it means advocating for the interests of free-living animals and defending the habitat they require to experience their lives. And it means careful attention to root causes of social inequality, not generalizing about, and policing, the financially poor.
Amidst today’s social-movement dialogue, with its attention to intersectional critiques of objectification, and on today’s Earth, with human domination driving mass extinctions, nearly every aspect of Newkirk’s focus is gravely obsolete. Would someone like to explain, then, why its base of financial support is ever increasing?
Vegstock: A Moving Vegan Festival is a concept developed by Eric Nyman of Wildflower, a restaurant in southern New Jersey. There’s an ethical oomph when the word vegan appears in a festival name, and Eric set out to make ethics central to the first South Jersey vegan festival, which will span a portion of a street in Millville, host cooking demos, and collaborate with a number of businesses along the same street.
When asked to speak I said: Count me in. I teach environmental law; I write law review articles about advocacy, bio-communities, and climate change. Yet here is Wildflower, offering a super-accessible educational opportunity related to some of these same topics.
People need no advanced degrees to understand how we got this human-dominated, climate-compromised planet, and how to live differently. But we do need ways to focus our attention and exchange ideas and inspiration locally. What kind of Saturday could be more enjoyably worthwhile than this? What’s cooler than a vegetable restaurant dedicating itself to the cultivation of community? And the inclusion of artists, chefs and events throughout the day in various local spots in the Glasstown Arts District’s High Street makes it uniquely exciting.
Before I go, I want to put three nutshells on Vegan Place describing the topics I’ll open at Vegstock this Saturday.
The impacts of `free-range` on the free-living. For years, animal advocates have operated under the belief that pasture-based or organic ranching, while not perfect, represents a step in the humane direction—but only looking at how domesticated animals seem to be affected. The best case scenario for achieving an advocacy victory involves the business that agrees to “give” the animals space and conditions that the advocates deem “natural” for the animals.
A general return to the family farm is implausible on an Earth with 7-billion-plus humans. And the more of Earth’s finite space and resources “given” to our domesticated animals, the less is available to communities of undomesticated animals who live in their own spaces, on their own terms.
The weight (mass) of the cows we breed to consume adds up to more than that of all free-living land mammals combined. Does it make any ethical sense to say we’re doing the most good when we focus on improving animal husbandry? Is it fair and accurate to claim more space or “natural” conditions for farm-raised animals constitute some form of animal rights or “a step in the right direction”?
I’ll also bring marine animals into the discussion, and the roles of the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace in assuring people that “sustainable seafood” exists while promoting the international commerce in fish raised on the mass corn and soy markets.
The current climate situation and the importance of dietary divestment from animal agribusiness. Halve your intake of animal flesh, and you could cut your carbon footprint by more than 35%, current research shows. Go vegan, and the difference could be 60%.
How important is commitment to veganism? Notice what climate change is doing to our planet and our prospects for living on it, for one thing. Overall, because of global warming, the planet could see about an 11% reduction in the number of days with suitable climates for plant growth, with some tropical regions facing a reduction of up to 200 days per year by 2100. That’s frightening stuff. If there ever was a time for half-measures, that time is over.
Internet memes in a social movement. This is going to be the hardest to do, as it’s an AV presentation addressing issues of sex, race, and class as well as other-than-human interests, and it’s important to do it without misappropriating perspectives and circumstances even as it explores them.
Is it respectful to rely on graphic images of beings whose lives we don’t know, of individuals who cannot give us permission, in order to make social statements?
Does the regular picturing of abuse prevent us from appropriately processing “adorable” interactions and “cute” Internet memes? Is it vulnerability we are often looking at when we look at these? Is it a vulnerability of our own making?
Overall, the impact of social media on knowledge-sharing can’t be denied. Listicles, buzzwords and memes (oh, my!) are ever-present for the half of the human population with access to a computer. How are we affected by the built-in convenience of these communication devices—whether as receivers or communicators?
I do not know if any of the above segments will be taped, though Eric Nyman has put a call out for someone with AV gear to handle that. If you’re reading and planning to attend, I hope you’ll let me know of any specific aspect of the above you’d find especially interesting, or something relevant that I might have overlooked.
Veganism is about, primarily, non-exploitation. Making it about the animals is like making feminism about the females. Not only does it maintain and enforce the separation and hierarchy of us and them – it creates a victim group, leaving little room for a perception of the true nature of anyone involved.
– Meg Graney
Thank you, Meg, for that thought for today, and…happy birthday!