VegFest in Buffalo, NY: A Slideshow About Caricatures and Memes

Animal advocacy produces many images in which selectively bred animals appear as cute, contented, and wanting to delight you or be friends with you. And generally we don’t regard it as needing further thought. It’s the imagery of endearment. Post adorable piglets, and maybe it’ll make people who keeping doing those bacon posts on Facebook see bacon in another way?

Popular advocacy images: What do they display or conceal about humanity’s relationship with all others?

On Sunday 6 August at the Western New York VegFest in Buffalo, I’ll present Cuteness, Memes, and Animal-Liberation Imagery: A Slideshow and Discussion.
We’ll look at how endearing imagery can work against animals and their defenders in a way the movement
has yet to explore.
This presentation asks: Does popular animal-advocacy imagery reinforce animals’ vulnerability? Is so, why should this matter to us?
Is there something we can learn here from the effects of race-based caricatures? What do we know about the power of imagery from the abolitionist struggle? To say all oppressions come from a common impulse, as I wrote in On Their Own Terms, isn’t to say that various groups are the same, or that the kind of inequality they’ve faced is the same. And facile analogies don’t help. Claire Heuchan has observed how “Black experience is regularly placed on a par with animals as a provocation.”
This is why it’s so important that the slideshow’s concept does not set out to compare caricatures reflecting white supremacy with caricatures that justify domestication. Distinct struggles against systems of domination should be known on their terms, even as they teach about the common source — the human urge to dominate and control — and ask ourselves how we’re challenging or continuing it.

Thanks to my patrons who make it possible for me to give up days of shift work to contribute this effort to the WNY VegFest. If you’d like to help this outreach continue, consider supporting it with a regular contribution (which can be as modest as $1 per month) on Patreon.
Advertisements

Hands Off the Camels

I’ve been so busy looking at cashew cheddar, hemp Parmesan and avocado ice cream that I didn’t notice the camel milk in a local co-op until a friend nudged me. Yes, camel milk has arrived. A website called Wellness Mama touts the stuff as a one-stop fix for everything from allergies to autism.

The Camel Milk Association must be under some social and legal pressure, though. They’ve posted a fact sheet about their members’ right of association on their website.

One camel milk vendor, Meadow Ridge Farm, calls itself a private membership club, citing the Weston A. Price Foundation as prescribing the raw-milk tradition to which they adhere.

But raw, unpasteurized milk, sought by many camel milk devotees, is generally prohibited in the United States and Europe. And camel milk has only recently been accepted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a commercial product.

Desert Farms, an online sales hub, attempts to make camel milk look eco-friendly, with a particular reference to the Amish suppliers.

But camel farming is just another example of the traffic in introduced species. Plus, it comes with methane emissions. Although these emissions might be lighter than those of cows and other ruminants, they are significant. Note that commercially exploited camels and their descendants have been blamed for a significant portion of Australian methane.

The Desert Farms website also claims that the suppliers spend a lot of time with their camels, that the smallest supplier owns just two camels, and that these suppliers’ camels are just the happiest in all the world.

The pink camel in the room here is a baby camel. Where does a baby camel go after being conceived and born to induce lactation? A free-roaming baby camel is suckled for more than a year.

The Desert Farms Frequently Asked Questions page doesn’t say a word about the offspring. It does include the bizarre question Is Camel Milk Vegan? Answer: “No, Desert Farms camel milk is an animal product. Animal lovers can rejoice that our camels are treated well and cherished by each family farm!”

The vendors are clearly well versed in pretending that the camels whose milk they usurp endorse this business model. Hogwash.

In any case, what makes up happiness in the world of camels is none of our business. These beings are so wonderfully adapted to the desert habitats in which they evolved that they have extra eyelids for removing grains of sand. Camels have their own history without us, spanning more than 40 million years.

Jeffrey Mousssaieff Masson writes in Altruistic Armadillos, Zenlike Zebras:

An Arab proverb says that a foal knows the well where her mother came to drink before she gave birth to her. It is not clear how they can find their own home range again over vast stretches of trackless desert, but they do.

Does your local health food shop or co-op carry camel milk? If so (or if not), conversation could make a difference and spare new camels from being brought into a life of confinement.

A search on the Desert Farms store locator page brought up three retail sellers within 25 miles of me:

One encouraging factor is the limited number of camel milk outlets on the map. This fledgling trend should be vulnerable to sound critique.

Some readers might point out that making a special case of camels leaves the trade in cows, goats and others unchallenged. I’m not suggesting that we advocate solely for camels; nothing prevents us from admonishing animal agribusiness generally, including when discussing camel milk. Camels as a community can be defended, and the broader questions about why we take any other animals’ milk can come to the fore.


I thank Linda Stein for inspiring this post.

Cuteness and Memes in Wildflower Cafe Slideshow

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.”

Event sponsored by Wildflower Vegan Café, and patrons of the art of animal liberation.

All the World’s a Stage: Thoughts on the Death of Harambe, the Cincinnati Zoo Gorilla

A gorilla named Harambe has been shot and killed.

And just as Blackfish—the film exposing everything wrong with using orcas for human observation and fun—reverberates beyond SeaWorld and challenges the existence of aquaria generally, so will Harambe force the public to rethink gorillas wherever we look at them. Harambe’s life, we now must note, was marked by isolation from this gorilla’s own parents, and by alienation, transit and objectification.

And like the great killer whales, a zoo gorilla, alive or dead, has lost a lifetime, missing everything that makes a free life possible…

Read more here . . .


Photo offered through Creative Commons for non-commercial use; original image by Frank Wouters on Flickr: link.

How Pro-Pitbull Crusades Harm Workers — and Dogs

Industry groups such as the American Pit Bull Foundation are out to vaunt the public image of these dogs, and “promote responsible breed ownership through providing owner and public education.” Why should animal advocates buttress their exploitive, deadly position?

Full article at CounterPunch today.

Fifteen Buzzwords Vegan Educators Can Stop Using Today

Semantics, says the Online Etymology Dictionary, is the science of meaning in language. To be understood, we need words to mean what the receiver thinks they mean. Semantics matter.

What about creating new phrases? When we choose coined terms, we’re usually communicating to insiders—others who’ve read the same literature. These terms often come from specific non-profit groups or individualsEureka - from espaciotiempo.org.ar claiming to advance a groundbreaking theory.

The use of a coined term even in a small group of insiders can cause misunderstandings, for it might suggest agreement with the whole kit and caboodle set out by the phrase’s inventor.

You might ask: Isn’t vegan a coined term? And so it is. But in its 70 years of use, it has become plain language. The word was offered by a community rather than an individual, and it functions as an essential signal to a unique and liberating pathway. It draws on a principle known and expressed for many generations, and channels it into a social movement’s terms.

Beyond that, the animal-rights idea takes no special jargon to explain. The idea that animal husbandry involves inflicting unnecessary harm is not a novel theory; it appears in Henry Salt’s 1892 book Animals’ Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress. International Vegetarian Union historian John Davis says that although Salt died five years before the founding of The Vegan Society, the last 55 years of Salt’s life were lived (as we now say) vegan.

Much term-coining and buzzword creation that’s come along since vegan has muddied clear waters, as our competitive culture promotes the act of personal marking—branding, to use today’s infelicitous term—on something that could just be straightforwardly recalled.

Here are 15 words and phrases we could drop and be better off for it:

1. Welfarist. For anyone who missed the “abolition-versus-welfare” back-and-forth, a quick synopsis. The animal-rights ideal would mean everyone opts out of using other animals. Instead of making that clear, charities continue to use heart-wrenching images and vow to fix the most “barbaric” abuses. Pity doesn’t challenge the status quo. A donation to reduce spectacular suffering can affirm the donor’s superior status in the system, changing nothing. PETA asks restaurant chains to prefer chicken suppliers that use gas slaughter technique. If any businesses enter into such preference agreements, PETA will publicize their promises to consider better animal welfare. Because it’s been connected to this kind of industrial whitewashing, welfare is used by some critics as a negative word; people who promote minor changes in animal enterprises are derided as welfarists. But does the word welfare have anything to do with the way businesses adjust their handling of the animals they own, use, and ultimately kill?

In contrast, an authentic caregiver promotes animal welfare. Trap-neuter-return work—catching abandoned domesticated cats and their offspring, neutering them, and supplying continued care—is praiseworthy welfare work. Welfare, to the ordinary ear, means well-being. So, right now, we should stop using welfarist as a negative code-word. (I should add that rescuing or “helping” animals does not, by itself, advance animal rights. But rescue and genuine caregiving are needed when we humans have caused an emergency in other animals’ lives, or imposed dependency upon them.)

2. “Stop factory farming!” Can we object to all animal farming at once? Even the small, family-run farm violates other beings’ most basic personal interests, beginning with the purpose-breeding of them because we can. And such farms still use resources that could feed hungry humans. Mathematician Adam Merberg published rough calculations suggesting a well-known free-range farm uses more calories in feed than it produces in food; and with the needless waste they generate, these property developments degrade water, soil and air. The very existence of any pastureland signifies predator removal. There is no benign animal agribusiness. Not for the planet, ourselves, the animals we’ve domesticated or those we haven’t.

3. Euthanasia. The term means a good death. It does not mean killing refugees to make space or save resources. Starting today, let’s all rule out the term euthanasia to mean the cold-blooded killing of a bear who chased a camper, or the death of a dog in a so-called shelter.

4. Companion animals. It’s not fair to selectively breed other animals to suit our desires, then call them companions as though they chose to hang out with us. I know: this is a tough one. Most people reading Vegan Place care for and love individual animals in our homes. So it can be hard for us to challenge the practice of keeping household animals. It might feel unloving. But step back and consider how they got here. These animals’ domestication is based on neoteny—the purposeful retention, in an adult cat or dog, of juvenile characteristics that prompt an animal to need and solicit care.

Most vegans already agree that nursing on another species is weird, and indeed that selectively breeding animals so we can take their milk is weird. Isn’t it also weird to want wolves and wildcats selectively bred so we can make them forever dependent?

And fashioning toys out of powerful wolves and wildcats—separating them from their families, buying and selling them, subjecting them to praise or punishment at whim, making ourselves their indispensable overseers—can hardly be justified on the grounds that pets benefit from the arrangement. Did it really benefit wolves to become Schnauzers? The land that is now the United States was once home to hundreds of thousands of wolves. Today, it has a few thousand wolves and 80 million domesticated dogs.

rackIf we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that we have, over time, forced free souls into submission. And when we think of it that way, companionship is an unfair term.

5. “Why love one but eat the other?” I’d think genuine advocacy seeks to cultivate an attitude of respect, not love in a system of inequality. If so, the best thing we can do as teachers is to inspire communities to respect other animals’ natural freedom and power—all that is taken away when we transform the Earth’s other conscious life into shapes that please us. The vegan issue isn’t about why we only eat one, but why we purpose-breed either.

6. Farm animal rights movement. There is no such thing. To animal agribusiness, the effective response is conscientious objection. Those who feel they are missing an ethical duty by not showing undercover videos or lobbying for animal-husbandry adjustments might consider farmer Harold Brown’s counsel: Let the animal farmers themselves improve conditions (they will, for PR reasons) as the vegan movement grows without them. Leave them without assistance, threats, cajoling or praise. It’s not the advocate’s role to police an abusive system.

7. Farmed animals. Why, instead of farm animals, has it become fashionable to say farmed animals? As in: animals who just happen to be farmed? It’s not as though we could just stop using them on farms, and the problem is solved. These animals have been selectively bred as farm animals: to be as easily confined and herded as we can make them. We need to do more than rescue them from farm use; we need to challenge the purpose-breeding at the root of the wrong.

8. Vegan cats. One of these words is not like the other… Veganism is an ethic that can be safely, harmlessly, naturally embraced by human primates. Forget about forcing cats to eat plants, and start getting vocal about the making of pets in the first place. See #4.

9. Single-issue campaigns. Should we dismiss the defending of any targeted group because it’s “single-issue”? What wrong done to a community or even to one person is beneath concern? All lives matter.

10. Wildlife. Aren’t we talking about animal communities? The word wildlife can mean plants as well as animals. Moreover, wild means uncultivated—a concept that falls short of representing the complexities of the non-human lives, systems, and interactions.

11. Humane, non-lethal alternatives.  Don’t do it. Don’t ask managers to put free-living animals on birth control rather than shoot them. Earlier on this blog I shared my column examining the way forcing contraception on animals became confused with advocacy; here is that link again. Read it and weep for the deer of Valley Forge National Historical Park and at several other National Parks in the eastern United States, where plans are being carried out to kill kill kill for as many years as park managers say so—until they get approval for some disappear-deer drug. The Natural Resources Director at Valley Forge claimed to have implemented this plan as a compromise with animal-rights activists.

12. Ethical vegan (also: abolitionist vegan). There is no unethical or pro-exploitation kind of veganism. Nor must we establish subcategories, subcultures, or exclusive clubs for only certain vegans. Vegan is vegan.

13. Meatless. Meat means an article of food or an essential part of something. It’s the term animal agribusiness which covers all the interconnected exploitation of an industry at once—and doesn’t suggest that vegans lack anything.

14. Veg. Nobody knows what that means. 

15. Vegan options. How about vegan offerings? In contrast to the if-we’re-lucky connotation of options, vegan offerings has a ring of confident generosity. Let’s imagine, discuss, and create a culture that makes animal farms history, one where vegan living is embraced as the way to sustain our world.


Thanks to Meg Graney and Kate Sparkman Sharadin for helpful online comments that got me in the mood to write this up. Source of banner detail: Shop With Meaning. Source of Eureka! drawing: EspacioTiempo (PDF). Source of St. Bernard breeding rack photo: Stornum Kennels.

Our Privilege to Look

A link going around Facebook is asking:

Should animal advocates use graphic images of animals suffering or cute pictures of happy animals to get their message across? What simple techniques make people twice as likely to donate money or volunteer their time to help animals?

And come to  think about it, that’s mainly what one sees in animal advocacy: graphic images of animals suffering or cute pictures of happy animals.

Meanwhile, in real life, animals are doing much more than suffering and being cute. In their countless and varied communities, they lead lives of infinite richness.

Consider the “simple techniques” question, posed by someone in another area of social justice. By way of illustration, imagine someone in an immigration advocacy group asking:

Should refugee advocates use graphic images of refugees suffering or cute pictures of happy refugees to get their message across? What simple techniques make people twice as likely to donate money or volunteer their time to help refugees?

When I worked in migrant advocacy, I noticed a photo of the same emaciated child and mother on various fundraising websites. Refugees and asylum-seekers live and move in many roles. They might be homeless; they might be teaching international law. How do they feel when seeing refugees portrayed over and over as mouths to feed, while the fundraising campaigners who use the images have no idea what their lives are like or what their talents are?

Maybe the child and mother whose faces keep appearing, if they are alive somewhere today, are highly skilled people; in any case, these refugees are more than their victimhood.

I’ll get back to the “cute pictures of happy animals” in a later post. But real quick: For an advocacy group or sanctuary to depend on baby-faced animals to solicit funds parallels the conduct of zoos. Circuses, commercials and comedy hours often show chimpanzees smiling, though the smile on the chimpanzee’s face is a signal of fear. Pandas’ big eyes are there not to attract human caregivers; rather, as George B. Schaller writes:

The eye patches enlarge the panda’s small, dark eyes tenfold, making the stare more potent. In addition, a staring panda often holds its neck low, a position that not only presents the eye patches to an opponent but also outlines the black ears against the white neck, in effect presenting two pairs of threatening eyes. Conversely, to show lack of aggressive intent, a panda averts its head, covers the eye patches with its paws, or hides its face…

In other words, pictures that signal vulnerability, whether intended to raise funds or to move people to join a campaign, may inadvertently defy reality and respect for beings, or whole groups of beings, who are represented as helpless, perpetually needing rescue.

MasksThe “simple techniques” for drawing donors and supporters involve short-cutting: The animal advocate who uses shocking pictures and employs emotional words that require no thought (a high percentage of alerts include “cruel” or “horrific” or “barbaric”) can get by with limited understanding of ethical, environmental or political issues. That can be convenient when membership drives, a petition full of signatures, or fundraising take over as goals. It can also fail to respect the audience, and fail to accord genuine respect for the individual or population with interests at stake.

Even the gentlest, most painstaking and studious advocacy films interpret others’ lives through the camera’s lens. Often, the photographer or videographer was a passive witness to a harrowing event, infusing a disturbing element to the very process of obtaining the imagery.

Watching animals is normal for us. We were carefully and frequently taught as children to regard other animals as spectacles. So it takes a conscious awareness to question our privilege to look, and our prerogative to do what we like with the images.

image source