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Why Race Matters (especially for Animal Rights Activists)

Why Race Matters (especially for animal activists)

Working against racism is not just the right thing to do. As a world-renowned scholar points out, it's the only way our movement will grow, both at home and abroad. 

By Wayne Hsiung

 Will Kymlicka

Will Kymlicka

Will Kymlicka is one of the most influential philosophers of our time. His work on multiculturalism and human rights has spawned dozens of books by distinguished scholars in the field, and it has influenced an entire generation of human rights practitioners. A professor at one of Canada's most prestigious universities, he is also far from being a "radical anti-racism activist."

And yet Kymlicka, along with his co-author Sue Donaldson, has an important critique of our movement. We are, in both our shocking lack of diversity and our demonization of non-white/Western peoples and practices, shooting ourselves in the foot. 

In both of these ways – the broader public’s targeting of ‘cruel’ minority practices and the AR movement’s promoting of a vegan lifestyle – contemporary animal politics is often seen not just as presupposing a privileged white perspective, but also as reaffirming or relegitimating those racial privileges, treating white perspectives as normative while ignoring the extent to which those perspectives are made possible by the oppression of others. Animal advocacy, in short, is seen as performing whiteness....

There is arguably no greater sin on the Left in North America today than performing whiteness, and progressive organizations will avoid associating with any cause that they suspect will be accused of doing so. Mainstream feminist, gay, disability or anti-poverty groups have faced their own accusations of performing whiteness, and have undergone wrenching internal debates to include racial minorities in their work. Having created what are often still fragile alliances with racial minorities, they are reluctant to embrace any cause that might jeopardize those links.

I share his words because my appeal to PETA yesterday was not a critique of one organization or campaign. It was a call for us to rethink basic assumptions about our movement. Should we be targeting "others" in distant communities or cultures, or pushing harder to change the practices of our own friends, families, and communities? Should we be glorifying rich Western celebrities, or empowering marginalized voices -- voices from communities who, like animals, have also suffered from violence -- to be ambassadors for trans-species justice? Should we frame our movement as a Western consumer lifestyle movement (in a world where billions still struggle in extreme poverty), or as a global movement to stop violence against the most oppressed beings on this planet? Should we be performing whiteness -- privileging white, Western perspectives over those of oppressed peoples (and animals) all over the world -- or should we be fighting for justice -- showing the ties between all forms of discriminatory violence and, by doing so, connecting the cause of animals to historic movements for human rights?

These are all big picture questions that extend far beyond a single campaign. And we must answer them well because, as Kymlicka powerfully argues, not only do these questions determine our attempts to build global solidarity... they build a foundation (or, if answered poorly, a non-foundation) for our movement's growth here at home. 

Check out the full article here. It's a must-read. 

Why the HRC study of former vegetarians is wrong

Why the HRC study of former vegetarians is wrong

by Wayne Hsiung

 What do gunshots and retroviruses have to do with a recent study on vegan messaging? 

What do gunshots and retroviruses have to do with a recent study on vegan messaging? 

The Humane Research Council released a study a few days ago claiming to show, among other things, that meat reduction is a more effective strategy than veganism. The first and most important point to make is that this is an example of what social scientists call a "reductionist" approach. Looking through the lens of individual consumers, as the brilliant sociologist Duncan Watts has instructed us, is like trying to understand forest fires by examining individual sparks or individual trees. The properties of the ecosystem as a whole -- in particular, the existence of highly flammable and connected kindling -- are what cause forest fires, so looking at the characteristics of individual components of the ecosystem simply won't provide any answers. Similarly, the changes activists are seeking to cause involve the interactions between many individuals -- moderated through network variables such as social norms and legal rules -- and looking at individual motivations will simply lead us down the wrong path. The best research on systemic change, in turn, shows us that, instead of focusing on individual-level vegan outcomes, we should be trying to build empowered networks of activists. We have to, in short, build up the kindling. 

But there are also two very important technical limitations that should give us pause in giving any weight to the conclusions drawn from the study. I'll try to describe both problems in layman's terms. 

1. The study is "sampling on the dependent variable."

HRC claims to test how various messages (i.e. various "treatments") affect the success of veg*n advocacy. But, importantly, they only look at people who were successfully converted, rather than all people exposed to a message. This is what scientists call "sampling on the dependent variable," and it statistically distorts the study in a fundamental way. 

A comparison may be helpful here. Say, for example, I were comparing the lethality of AIDS (a slow progressing disease), on the one hand, and gun shots (a fast progressing "disease"), on the other, but I only looked at people who died or nearly died as a result of each "treatment" rather than the entire universe of people who are exposed to AIDS or a gunshot. I might erroneously conclude that AIDS is much more dangerous than gun shots because all the people who have a near-death experience with gun shots seem to recover (naturally, because they are otherwise healthy people) while those who have a near-death experience with AIDS seem to continue on to death. But that ignores the fact that there are plenty of people with AIDS who never even get to the point of a near death experience because we have so many drugs to control the disease. It's essentially a treatable chronic condition in the West. We would have basically said, "Oh my gosh, AIDS is so deadly!" but only because we've ignored all the people who get AIDS, but never reach the point where they're on the precipice of death. 

Looking at only people who were successfully converted to veganism "slowly" is similar to looking at only people who have a deadly experience with AIDS. *Of course* it will look like the treatment at issue is powerful because, well, you're only looking at people for whom it's had a powerful effect, while ignoring the many others (millions others, in both cases) for whom it's had no effect. (For those interested in a numerical example, see the bottom of this blog post.) 

2. The study doesn't test causality. 

The HRC study is essentially a series of self-reported correlations. Any professional scientist will tell you that there are an infinite number of models to fit any particular set of data. For example, say I wake up, then I see the sun rise. Did I cause the sun to rise? Did the sun wake me up ahead of time because it wanted to show me its bright colors? Was there a magical elf who wanted to tell a story of me waking up, then the sun rising, who caused both to happen? Or was the correlation entirely random? 

You cannot distinguish between any of these theories with correlations. The correlations are still interesting, as they do limit the sorts of causal theories you should test. (For example, if I see the sun rises every morning after I get up, I should probably not test a theory that predicts the sun only rises in the evening when I go to sleep.) But the best way to look at these results -- and the way any professional economist would look at them -- is that this provides some raw data upon which we can actually perform some interesting experiments. For example, one could try to perform an instrumental variable analysis that would replicate the effects of a randomized controlled trial (the gold standard in empirical science) if we could find a variable that's correlated with the independent but not dependent variable. I don't know what that instrumental variable might be, however, as the data is not yet open to the public. It also doesn't solve the former problem -- sampling on the dependent variable -- so my hopes are fairly slim.

Upshot? Great effort. But it's probably best for social science to be performed by professional social scientists at research institutions. Frankly, even most of that research is spurious. (One of my former advisers used to tell me that only 1 out of 20 articles in even the best journals actually had any result to trust.) It's unreasonable to think we can do any better, as a movement, with our limited funds and expertise. 

Numerical Example (Note that this is hypothetical and used only to illustrate the problem) 

Treatment
- 100 people exposed to "go fast" message
- 100 people exposed to "go slow" message

Effect
- 50 people converted with "go fast"
- 5 people converted with "go slow"

Relapse after one month
- 15 people relapse after going fast
- 1 person relapses after going slow. 

HRC-equivalent analysis:
- We looked at the 55 people who are current or former vegetarians, and we found that 15 out of the 16 who relapsed within a month, i.e. 94%, transitioned to veg*ism quickly. This shows us that people are going too fast and that we have to change our message to "go slow." 

Correct analysis: 
- We looked at 200 people who were exposed to two different messages: go fast and go slow. The go fast message appeared to be 1000% more effective than go slow. However, relapse occurred very quickly, and those who changed under the "go fast" treatment appeared to relapse at slightly faster rates (30% compared to 20% relapse within a month) than those who changed under "go slow." This could be because the go fast message was less robust. It also could be because those who change quickly in one direction, i.e. towards veg*ism, also change quickly in the other direction. The overwhelming number of former vegetarians who transitioned to vegetarianism quickly, in turn, could simply indicate that the "go fast" message is much more effective than "go slow." Further analysis is warranted to make any definitive conclusions. 

Dairy: White Lies

Dairy: White Lies

By Pax Ahimsa Gethen

 

What if I told you that a substance that more than half of the world’s human population cannot digest properly was being marketed as necessary for human health?

What if I told you that the more people consumed this substance, the sicker they became?

What if I told you that people who became sick from eating this substance were told they had a “disorder” that needed to be fixed, rather than counseled to eat different foods that did not sicken them?

That substance, friends, is baby calf food — otherwise known as milk.

   
  
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   The only rightful recipient of cow’s milk. This calf, Harvey, was rescued from a dairy farm by  PreetiRang Sanctuary .

The only rightful recipient of cow’s milk. This calf, Harvey, was rescued from a dairy farm by PreetiRang Sanctuary.

A white person who doesn’t have many non-white friends or acquaintances might find it difficult to understand or believe that lactose intolerance is a natural condition; but in fact, the majority of people on Earth—most of whom are people of color—lose the ability to digest lactose after weaning from their mother’s breast milk. Those who have retained this ability are primarily of Northern European descent. As Andrea Freeman pointed out in the study The Unbearable Whiteness of Milk: Food Oppression and the USDA, “It would be therefore more appropriate to label people who retain the enzyme as ‘lactose persistent,’ instead of pathologizing the lack of the enzyme.” So strong is the dairy lobby’s power to make people believe that it is normal to drink the milk of another species that a study actually promoted gene therapy to treat the "disease" of lactose intolerance.

This pathologizing has led to the marketing of pills and expensive lactose-reduced milk to people of color, who are disproportionately low-income. My mother, who is black, has this milk on her cereal every morning. She can afford it now, but it would have been cost-prohibitive in the low-income community where she grew up. I tried to convince her to use non-dairy milk instead. I also explained to her that she didn't need cow's milk for the calcium, since there is plenty of calcium in green vegetables, including the broccoli that she often has for dinner. She joked, “No baby nursed at a broccoli breast.”

My grandmother also believed that she needed dairy products for the calcium, and ate ice cream at bedtime every night for quite some time. She became ill and gained a lot of weight, which most people would attribute to the sugar; but sugar, while certainly not a health food, is far less a contributor to obesity, diabetes and other health conditions than animal fat. The scapegoating of sugar has led to the introduction of regressive taxes such as the soda taxes recently proposed in the San Francisco Bay Area (the measure in San Francisco failed, while the one in Berkeley passed). These tax proposals specifically exempted milk products.

Wayne Hsiung’s excellent series on performing whiteness made me think about how pressured people of color are to fit in when it comes to eating foods that hurt our bodies. Before I went fully vegan, I once stayed in a hotel room where they put the traditional chocolate mints on the pillows. A Chinese friend came to visit, and I offered him one of these mints. He took out a tablet, apologetically explaining that he needed to take this before he could eat the mint — which contained dairy. I felt terrible about both encouraging him to eat something that I already felt conflicted about eating myself, and his obvious sense of obligation to accept the offered food. I lamented that he felt he had to take a drug that would enable him to eat it, rather than simply refuse it.

It isn’t only people of color that feel the pressure to conform. I once had a white coworker with a toddler who had ear infections so severe that he opted to have shunts put in the child’s ears. I asked my friend if he had tried giving the child non-dairy milk, as cow's milk can be a cause of childhood ear infections. He said yes, for a while; but he didn’t want the boy to be different from the other children. I was horrified that he would subject a child to a surgical operation rather than have him drink a different beverage that didn’t hurt him. Being child-free by choice, however, I didn’t want to risk offense by offering parenting advice.

While I never suffered severe distress from eating dairy products, my own childhood was marked by very frequent colds; I missed up to twenty days of school per year. I grew up in the 1970s, where the “four food groups” taught me that milk was an essential food. In elementary school, I sold tickets to students to exchange for pints of milk at the cafeteria; every child was expected to drink it. They still are. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has been doing a good job trying to get kids and adults more mindful of healthy food choices, but his campaign to remove flavored milk from schools is more scapegoating of sugar while leaving untouched and un-criticized a substance that no human child needs.

Study after study has shown that consumption of cow’s milk does not help reduce bone fractures and may otherwise be detrimental to health; yet we still insist that baby calf food, consumed by no other non-bovine species, should be consumed by humans. Even the doctor who wrote the New York Times article referenced in this paragraph concludes “...almost everything is perfectly good in moderation, milk included. What else would you put on cereal?”

Why is it that Westerners and those who adopt Western diets think pouring a white liquid over a bowl of dried, sweetened grains is a normal way to start the day? A traditional Japanese breakfast includes steamed rice and miso soup. A traditional Costa Rican breakfast contains rice and beans. Cooked dishes are certainly more labor-intensive than cereal and milk; but for those who cannot access dairy substitutes, fruit juice is another option. Apple juice poured over cold cereal is surprisingly delicious. Fresh fruit alone is also a great breakfast choice.

   
  
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   Vegan pizza: A treat, not a food group.

Vegan pizza: A treat, not a food group.

Cheese is another food that Americans, including many vegans who promote non-dairy cheeses, seem to think is a necessary food group. Why is a congealed glob of fat considered a normal thing to eat? The fat and salt appeal to our primitive taste buds, and the casomorphins in dairy have addictive properties, to be sure. Even lactose-intolerant people can often eat cheese and other cultured milk products.

I believe vegans do both human and non-human animals a disservice by focusing on “vegan cheeses”. Someone who cannot find or afford non-dairy cheeses should not feel that is an impediment to going vegan. Someone who doesn’t like the taste of non-dairy cheeses should not feel that is an excuse to continue exploiting animals. The production of dairy—including on so-called "humane farms"—involves slavery, rape, theft, and murder. No food should taste good enough to overlook the impact on the victims of animal agriculture.

Marketing milk to humans as a wholesome, nutritious food is racism and child abuse. Our children suffer avoidable ailments and indoctrination into a lifetime of unhealthy choices that perpetuate violence against animals. Their children — the calves and kids born to cows and goats in the dairy industry — suffer loss of their mothers, loss of their food, and loss of their lives. Ounce for ounce, consuming dairy is just as cruel as eating flesh, if not more so. Don’t buy the animal industry’s white lies.

Three Emotional Approaches

Three Emotional Approaches

By Saryta Rodriguez


The extent to which emotionality is effective and appropriate in nonviolent direct actions is a subject of many heated debates within the animal liberation community.  Conventional wisdom has long held the position that as activists, in order to be taken seriously and not to offend our audience to the extent that it will no longer heed our words, we must control our negative emotions when engaging in nonviolent direct action and only demonstrate those emotions which are positive and welcoming.  However, pioneering research in the social sciences tells us quite a different story, indicating that there is not only a place for negative emotions in the animal liberation movement but that negative emotions are of the utmost importance if we hope to truly enact change in the world.

Here, I would like to focus on three prominent emotions and the results they stand to yield in the animal liberation movement: happiness, anger, and sadness.

  The beloved house elf, Dobby, from the  Harry Potter  series.

The beloved house elf, Dobby, from the Harry Potter series.

The Dobby Approach: Have some free cookies and magazines!

On November 10, 2014, Direct Action Everywhere organizers Wayne Hsiung and Brian Burns gave a talk at the University of California at Berkeley entitled, “What if Everything We Think We Know about Social Change is Wrong?”  Early in this lecture, Wayne shared his experience as a student at the University of Chicago engaging in vegan outreach, years prior to moving to the Bay Area and founding Direct Action Everywhere.

Wayne began by sharing with us what he referred to as the “1-2% story”—a popular myth perpetuated within animal advocacy groups claiming that for all of the people to whom such groups reach out with the vegan message, 1-2% of these people will adopt a vegan way of life.  As his experience—and doubtlessly those of many other activists as well—illustrates, this is simply not the case.  Over the course of three years at the University of Chicago, Wayne and others offered free vegan cookies and magazines about veganism on campus to anyone willing to watch the gruesome five-minute documentary entitled “Meet Your Meat.”  Based on the sheer volume of cookies and magazines distributed over this time, hundreds of students should have gone vegan over that three-year period; however, when Wayne’s group reached out to people via email in the weeks following each campaign asking if they had committed to the vegan lifestyle, the group was met with…silence.

Understandably, Wayne asked the question: Where are all the missing vegans?

He and his group acted according to conventional wisdom.  They were not aggressive.  They were not disruptive.  Their demeanor was polite, and their offerings were 100% free of charge.  Still, the numbers simply did not add up.  Why?

One explanation I can readily offer is that, when it comes to free food, college kids will do just about anything.  I am confident, though disappointed, that many of the students who consented to watching “Meet Your Meat” couldn’t have cared less about animal liberation, and simply preferred to give five minutes of their time in exchange for food than money—which, for college kids, seems perpetually to be in short supply.  The combination of a minimal budget and a growing appetite often compels students to engage in all kinds of campus activities without really absorbing the intended messages of said activities.

Another explanation is that those who may have been truly moved by the video lacked the necessary community support with which to maintain their commitment to an admittedly challenging new way of life.  After watching the video, they were sent back into the world from which they had come—a world of parties, midterm exams, spring break, etc.  They were no longer compelled to engage in dialogues about animal liberation; and, as time wore on, their initial passion for the subject waned.

Finally, while watching this video may have opened many eyes to the atrocities committed by the meat and dairy industries, neither it nor the vegan literature dispensed after viewing it provided any instruction as to how to put an end to this once and for all.  The message delivered here was not one of true animal liberation—empowering activists to take the message to the streets—but one of simply, “Go Vegan”—i.e., change your personal lifestyle so that you can feel better about yourself, knowing that you personally are not participating in animal cruelty, while the rest of the world around you continues to do so, uninterrupted.

Brian later shared with us his personal experience as a member of this broken model: the “Go Vegan” model.  As a self-proclaimed math nerd, he was very antisocial in his youth and preferred reading math textbooks to socializing and engaging in dialogue.  The “Go Vegan” approach worked on him personally, as it had on Wayne (as well as myself); he saw something, read something, was repulsed, and radically changed his lifestyle.  However, what he saw and read did not empower him to enact any form of social change.  He continued to be isolated for a long time, living an animal-friendly lifestyle without encouraging others to do so.  It wasn’t until he encountered a strong liberationist community—Direct Action Everywhere— that he became increasingly comfortable discussing his views and the reasons behind them in public.  He is now a passionate and engaging speaker, giving talks not only to members of the DxE community but also at major universities such as UC Berkeley.

Conventional wisdom teaches us that what I’m calling The Dobby Approach (inspired by an image of Dobby from the Harry Potter series that Wayne included on a slide about vegan outreach) is the most effective way to save animals.  Wayne’s experience at U-Chicago, Brian’s experience as a young vegan and my own experience of having been vegan for many years prior to becoming an activist illustrate that this model simply doesn’t work.  Yes, it changes individual minds; but the goal of our movement is not to create individual vegans but to create communities of activists who can support each other (thus ensuring that people stay committed to the cause and don’t abandon it) while spreading the message, inspiring a domino effect.

The Angry Approach: I’m so angry I made a sign!

Conventional wisdom offers us one, and only one, counterpoint to the Dobby Approach: that of the Radical Angry Vegan.  The general consensus among mainstream animal advocate communities is that “Being aggressive, disruptive or confrontational makes us look crazy and unreasonable, and can only hurt our movement.  It damages our credibility while offending the very people we hope to reach!”

Bert Klandermans (a professor of Applied Social Psychology at the VU-University of Amsterdam), Jacquelien van Stekelenburg (head of the Department of Sociology at the VU-University of Amsterdam), and Jojanneke van der Toorn (an assistant professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Leiden University) assert in their article, “Embeddedness and Identity: How Immigrants Turn Grievances into Action” that:

“It is not enough to assess that one is treated unfairly; it is also important to have an affective reaction–specifically anger–to translate that assessment into action.”

Their argument is based on the understanding that it is negative emotions—most commonly, feelings of outrage and offense—that motivate people to engage in direct action.  Think about this in the context of your own life.  How often do you take the time to write positive reviews on Yelp after going to a good restaurant or store? How does that number compare to the number of times you have rushed to your computer to rant after an infuriating experience at such an establishment?

When someone says something with which you agree on social media, you may take the split-second required to “Like” the comment; but in all likelihood, you will not compose a lengthy reply.  By contrast, when someone says something with which you strongly disagree via these same mediums, you may feel compelled to compose a long, aggressive reply in which you rip apart the offending statement point by point, citing multiple examples to the contrary and including links to articles and videos that support your position.

While I understand and value the insights provided by the above team of Dutch social scientists, I have to admit that my personal experience as an animal activist simply does not correlate with these findings.  Ample individuals have told me that, while they care immensely about non-human animals and want to contribute to the cause, they shy away from it specifically because they have been confronted in the past by the stereotypical Radical Angry Vegan.  Their personal, negative experience with this one Radical Angry Vegan has since led them to the misconception that all animal liberationists are angry, judgmental, vicious people—not the kind, compassionate individuals we often claim to be.

So, how do we reconcile these findings?  We know that, statistically, the Dobby Approach doesn’t work; and while we know that there is some value to being open about our anger concerning the atrocities committed against non-humans, I for one am not fully convinced that The Angry Approach is the best way to inspire social change of this magnitude.  Might there be a third option?

The Somber Approach: The slaughter of non-humans is a true tragedy, and we must mourn the victims while advocating for the end of non-human massacre.

  DxE's October 2014 International Day of Action:  Ghosts in the Machine , Berkeley Bowl, Berkeley, CA. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen.

DxE's October 2014 International Day of Action: Ghosts in the Machine, Berkeley Bowl, Berkeley, CA. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen.

My two favorite Direct Action Everywhere International Days of Action in 2014 so far have been Silenced Voices (July 2014) and Ghosts in the Machine (October 2014).  For our Silenced Voices demonstration, we entered restaurants around the world where meat and dairy are served (in the US and some other countries, the focus was on Chipotle; in countries where Chipotle has little or no presence, DxE branches visited establishments such as McDonald’s and Burger King), with recordings on our phones, laptops and other electronic devices.  Entering in silence, we then coordinated the start of our recordings, so that they would all play simultaneously and increase in volume as time wore on.

The recording included the real-life sounds of:

  • A hen crying for her life as she was turned upside-down and her throat was slit.
  • A piglet being castrated.
  • A cow having her horns seared off with a hot iron.
  • A pig, squealing, surrounded by the corpses of his friends and relatives, moments before being murdered with a stun gun.

The sounds first played individually, for about 20-30 seconds each; then, for about a minute, all of the sounds played at once.  Following this, one activist at each location gave a brief speech explaining to consumers what they had just heard, and imploring them to no longer support such atrocities.

At the Bay Area demonstration that I attended, for the first time since I moved to the Bay Area in March and started engaging in direct action here, not a single customer antagonized us.  Also for the first time (to the best of my knowledge) since my arrival in the Bay, one customer was so moved by our demonstration that she stopped eating and began to cry.

For our Ghosts in the Machine demonstration, we targeted grocery stores around the world (Bay Area activists engaged at Berkeley Bowl’s larger location).  We entered the grocery stores in funeral attire, carrying a black, cardboard coffin.  We then placed the body of a victim of violence—in the case of Berkeley Bowl, the corpse of a hen—into the casket and held a memorial service for her, as well as all of the victims on display in the meat and seafood counters behind us.  Various activists delivered brief eulogies for the departed, and we solemnly exited the store in an organized funeral procession.  (We regrettably had to place the body of the hen near the door as we exited, so as not to be criminalized as thieves.)

While the employees at the meat counter behind us were incredibly hostile and aggressive throughout our demonstration, the customers were not.  Whereas at past demonstrations customers have violently pushed past us, varying in vocalization from muttering insults under their breath to shouting into our faces or ears, in this case I felt that a path was cleared for us as we left.  I did not find myself having to squeeze around anyone; and in briefly glancing at some of the faces around me both during the memorial service and upon our exit, the majority of the faces I encountered wore expressions of genuine interest and even sadness—rarely hostility, and perhaps only once amusement.

What these demonstrations have taught me is that, more effective than the Dobby Approach and the Angry Approach combined, is the Somber Approach: Focusing on the tragedy being inflicted upon the victims, rather than trying to sway the public via cheerful consumerism or condemning the choices of those who simply don’t understand what they’re doing (yet).  Both Silenced Voices and Ghosts in the Machine, perhaps more evidently than any other demonstration DxE organized in 2014, truly focused one hundred percent on the victims—not on us, and not on commercial veganism.  These demonstrations forced people to view the bodies on display in a new light: not as dinner options but as corpses of individuals who neither wanted to nor deserved to die.  Victims whose only crime was to be born of a species other than homo sapiens.  I am convinced that the spectators at these two demonstrations were considerably more moved, and thought about what they had seen for a significantly longer amount of time, than the spectators at any of our other demonstrations—many of which include chanting on street corners, which some perceive as aggressive and hostile.

This is not to say we should not be disruptive; in both of these demonstrations, as with all DxE demonstrations, we did disrupt the status quo.  Disruption and confrontation are paramount to our success.  We cannot let business go on as usual. We cannot allow people to continue ignoring the problem; but these two demonstrations in particular illustrate how to be both disruptive and confrontational without perpetuating the stereotype of the Radical Angry Vegan.

On a more personal level, all movement-building aside, these types of demonstrations resonate most powerfully within me.  I am not nearly as angry with meat- and dairy-consumers as I am pitying of them, for I strongly believe that these industries hurt humans almost as much as they hurt non-humans.  When I think about these industries, my gut reaction is not one of rage but one of overwhelming sadness.  So, in my case, it is far more emotionally authentic to engage in a funeral procession or to encourage folks to hear the voices of the victims crying out in pain than it is to shout from the rooftops, “GO TO HELL, MEAT-EATERS!” 

In closing, I should note that the Somber Approach is not without anger; but rather than the Radical Angry Vegan brand of anger that lashes out at people and makes them uncomfortable, this anger serves as fuel for enacting positive social change (and, yes, still makes people uncomfortable—but for different reasons).  The anger bubbles beneath the surface and pushes us as activists forward, just as an instigating comment on the Internet fuels us to write a reply—sometimes aggressively and offensively (Radical Angry Vegan-style) but, in some cases, in an intelligent and well-thought-out manner (Constructive Anger-style).  Thus, this model does not directly contradict our Dutch social scientists so much as it pushes their declaration one step further, distinguishing between constructive and destructive modes of anger.

Not all responses or actions fueled by anger are themselves angry, and what the Somber Approach enables us to do is put our anger to good use while maintaining one-hundred-percent focus on the victim.  The kind of anger inherent in the Somber Approach does not create an Us vs. Them dynamic—that is, us wonderful, perfect vegans versus the heinous and immoral Everybody Else—but rather emphasizes the Us with Them dynamic: we humans standing boldly before our fallen non-human brothers and sisters, unabashedly mourning them in the same way that many Americans would mourn their dogs and cats at home.

I believe that, ultimately, we are all most effective when we remain true to ourselves; and the Somber Approach is what rings most true to me.

Sleight of Hand (East Coast Tour – Part 2)

 The Conjurer by Hieronymus Bosch. While a magician performs, pickpockets steal the audience's belongings. 

The Conjurer by Hieronymus Bosch. While a magician performs, pickpockets steal the audience's belongings. 

Sleight of Hand

by Ronnie Rose

(This is the second in a multi-part series about DxE's East Coast Speaking Tour. Read the first part here.) 

“What is this I have in my hand?” he asks us, holding up a deflated red balloon.

Wayne answers, “a balloon.”

“Do you think this balloon, once blown up, will be able to fit inside of this glass?” We pause for a second, looking at the wine glass on the table and then back up at the balloon, imagining the scenario.

“No,” we say in unison.

“Now, I’m going to test your perceptual abilities.” The magician starts to blow air into the red balloon, and we watch him as it inflates to the size of a large watermelon. We both look down at the wine glass again, measuring the likelihood that the two disproportionately-sized objects will be able to fit together.

“You know, I really can’t make this happen without this tool I have, which you may have heard of, called a magic wand. Let me get it.” The magician reaches into his black velvet overcoat with his right hand, while still holding the inflated red balloon in his left hand. We wait in anticipation to see what will happen next. 

As he fumbles in his overcoat for the magic wand, he quickly pulls out a knife and stabs the balloon. It pops. I’m startled. My mind is struggling to catch up to the rapid movements and make sense of the chaos. After a short lapse, I realize that in the same hand as the balloon, there now appears a bottle of red wine.

I am thoroughly impressed.

“What you didn’t notice was that there was a bottle of wine inside of the balloon,” he jokes as he opens the bottle and pours it into the glass.

---------

What I didn’t mention in the scene above (a sleight of hand of my own) is that the magician was not only our host in Boston—our first stop on the East Coast tour—but the critical theorist John Sanbonmatsu. As you may recall, I have written about John’s work on this blog before. He has played a key role in my intellectual development on topics of animal liberation and speciesism, and by association, in the development of DxE and the It’s Not Food, It’s Violence campaign.

I asked John after the magic show if he ever performs for his classes (he teaches philosophy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute). “Yes,” he tells me, “in fact I bring magic to the class when I’m teaching Michael Pollan. I use my magic to show how he engages in misdirection to fool his audience every time he writes about how wonderful the conditions are for animals raised for food.” John continues, “Pollan is saying, ‘Hey, look over here! Look how beautiful this grassy field is!’, while diverting all attention away from the horror of the knife going into the poor cow’s throat.”

Like Pollan, magicians aim to misdirect the audience’s attention and awareness away from the source of the trick, so that its cause is obscured and appears to be supernatural. Magic, simply put, is an elaborate deception of the senses. John explains to us, “magic has been around for thousands of years,” and it is perhaps one of the oldest and most wide-spread forms of performance art on the planet.

Magic, I realized, is not only encountered as a performance on the stage, but pervades every waking moment of our lives. The manipulation of perceptions (also known as “marketing”) is an art that corporations and exploitative ideologies have mastered to build, and justify, their empires. For example, Chipotle and other marketers of “humane” meat, eggs, and milk mislead and dupe the public just like Michael Pollan; they carefully craft slogans and polish stories about animal agriculture that appear benign and just, while diverting attention away from the source of real ethical concern: we are controlling, dominating, and killing other sensitive beings because they are different.

As performed in Chipotle’s viral marketing videos, Back to the Start and The Scarecrow, this ethical concern magically vanishes as viewers watch happy animals turned into happy burritos without the pain, fear, and suffering of slaughter. 

And voilà! Attention diverted, money made, trick complete.

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 Activists in Boston bring the silenced voices and cries of animals into Chipotle, where their bodies are sold. 

Activists in Boston bring the silenced voices and cries of animals into Chipotle, where their bodies are sold. 

One of our roles as activists is to expose the tricks, and the mechanisms behind them, for what they are: fraudulent and harmful. We need to pull back the shroud and unveil all the props of deception. We need to redirect the world’s attention back to the violence behind the scenes—back to the knife poised to penetrate that poor cow’s throat.

On this tour, we are attempting to do just that. We are traveling from city to city to create, connect, and inspire activists to organize actions against species tyranny and violence. At each stop, we are presenting about our experiences in DxE, learning from others, and orchestrating demos for the It’s Not Food, It’s Violence campaign, which has now reached 50 cities in 16 countries. 

---------

Wayne advises me during the magic show, "Ronnie, we have to focus on what he's doing with his other hand, that's where the trick is!"

"Ah," retorts John the magician, "I see that you're a skeptic... That's excellent. Skepticism is what makes a good activist."

What Animal Rights Activists Can Learn from the Failures of the War on Poverty

What Animal Rights Activists Can Learn from the Failures of the War on Poverty

by Wayne Hsiung

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We have seen massive economic growth, globally, in the past 50 years. Yet, for the poorest and most oppressed, little seems to have changed. As Thomas Pogge, Director of the Global Justice Program and Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University, points out, this is especially galling because those of us in the developed world would have to shift such a tiny amount of our income, 2.7%, to totally alleviate severe poverty. 

But despite significant attempts by do-gooders to increase, and make more effective, charitable donations, the long-term problems remain unsolved. Why? Pogge offers an answer:

[A]id on its own cannot overcome the powerful headwind generated by a supranational institutional order designed by the rich for the rich... Only by changing the rules that generate and maintain vast global inequality can we actually realize the proclaimed ambition of our political leaders to end severe poverty by 2030. We must address its root causes, rather than treating its symptoms under the guise of charity.

Aid that goes to the poor, in a world where the rules of the game are skewed against them, ends up getting swallowed up by inefficient bureaucracies, corrupt dictators, or impossible on-the-ground problems (e.g. saving a child from malaria only to have her die the next day from cholera). Without an effort to change rules -- the many forms of which social scientists call "institutions" -- even promising symptomatic interventions are doomed to fail. 

There are lessons here for animal rights activists. Too often, we focus on symptomatic efforts -- changing one person, reforming one form of abuse for one particular species -- without thinking about the root causes -- political, social, and cultural -- of species oppression.

And there are tensions between systemic and symptomatic interventions, not only because resources spent on symptoms cannot go to cures, but because the very way we frame a problem will influence our conception of what it means to find a cure. A physicist will find answers that sound in physics -- she will look at the interaction of atoms and molecules, the operation of basic forces of physical science -- even if the right answer can only be found by looking to biology. 

Similarly, a vegan consumerist will find solutions only in vegan consumerism, even if the right answer can only be found by looking to animal liberation. If we focus too much on individual-level interactions (How do I create an individual vegan?), we may miss out on other variables of our system -- so-called emergent properties -- that are more important if we are to create real and permanent change (How do I create legal, moral, and social rules that condemn violence against animals?). The strategies, messaging, and tactics to affect these latter variables, in turn, might be very different from what we would seek if we were focused only on individual-level change. 

The upshot? As with the war on poverty, creating real and permanent change for animals will require us to change, not just individuals, but the rules under which those individuals operate. And that effort requires far more creativity, strategy, and yes, even radicalism than the mainstream animal rights movement currently acknowledges. 

 

Chipotle is Watching You

Chipotle is Watching You (by Kelly)

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These photos of Chipotle's subway ads for the "Cultivate" festival they brought to San Francisco look like a scene out of George Orwell's 1984. "[Chipotle] is watching you." 

And even for this blatant indication of their corporate model and effort at infiltrating the public consciousness, they still have people buying their image of being a small, foodie company, comprised of impossibly bucolic farms, and run by well-meaning people who just want to make the world a better place. Their marketing department is just that clever.

The humanewasher is intent on making people identify as strongly with their brand as possible, because when a brand becomes part of your identity -- becomes a part of your conception of you -- you feel compelled not just to hold onto it (to go there all the time), but to promote it (to tweet about it and wear shirts advertising it), and even to defend it (to walk by protestors calling out "I love Chipotle!" or "Go protest at McDonald's!").

Like I said, their marketing department is clever... but no amount of manipulative propaganda can stand up against the force of truth now can it? It's violence, and they can't distract people from that forever.

But we take a page from their playbook, by learning to enable and empower people with a liberationist identity that they feel so strongly attached to that they have to hold onto it, promote it, and fight for it with every watt of energy they have. Chipotle has doting fans because the company is skilled at selling those fans a hip identity... but Hipness will never inspire the commitment and drive that Justice can.

I am a liberationist, and will be until every animal is free.

(Thanks Darren Chang for the photos!)

Why workers hate Chipotle

 Chipotle CEO Steve Ells feasts on a $300 million pay package while his workers (and animals) suffer. 

Chipotle CEO Steve Ells feasts on a $300 million pay package while his workers (and animals) suffer. 

Why workers hate Chipotle

by Wayne Hsiung

The New York Times writes today about how Chipotle's own shareholders overwhelmingly voted down an executive pay package for CEO Steve Ells, who has received $300 million in recent years while paying his employees less than $10/hour, and other corporate kingpins. The vote occurred as labor protests against abuses by fast food chains, including Chipotle, expand worldwide. 

This reminds me of a point we've made over and over again. Chipotle and its corporate ilk are bad, not just for animals, but for America. They talk about sustainability while refusing any sort of environmental audit or accounting. They brag about how much they love their workers while driving them to insanity with time pressure and piddling wages. And they glow to the world about how much they love animals while killing millions every year. 

The era of robber barons is over. Smart corporations that seek to continue their exploitative practices have to repackage oppression in an ethical veneer. And this is one of the many reasons we selected Chipotle as the focus for our It's not Food, It's violence campaign. And it is why, as you will hear more about in the months to come, we have had current and former Chipotle employees come to us with allegations of corporate abuses. 

A company that would do such horrible things to animals for profit will not leave vulnerable human beings untouched. And so, today, DxE stands in solidarity with the workers all over the world who point out that there is something deeply problematic about our fast food nation, and increasingly, our fast food world. 

What a Little Hen's Bloody, Deformed Leg Can Teach Us About "Humane" Farming

 A band embedded into a hen’s deformed and crippled leg is just one brutal example of so-called “humane” farming. (Left: normal leg of a chicken rescued from a battery cage facility. Right: swollen and deformed leg of a hen rescued from a "humane" and pasture raised facility.) 

A band embedded into a hen’s deformed and crippled leg is just one brutal example of so-called “humane” farming. (Left: normal leg of a chicken rescued from a battery cage facility. Right: swollen and deformed leg of a hen rescued from a "humane" and pasture raised facility.) 

What a Little Hen's Deformed Leg Can Teach Us About "Humane" Farming

by Wayne Hsiung

 

Chipotle and the “meat” industry want the world to believe that there’s a kind way to raise and kill animals.

But the reality is that the animals Chipotle kills are often raised and tormented in exactly the same conditions as every other fast food chain. The company admits in its own regulatory filings that it sources from “conventional” farms (search for “conventional” here) -- code speak for factory farms -- and that its brand is vulnerable to damage by activist groups. And even its so-called “responsibly raised” nonconventional suppliers offer little more than a window dressing difference from a factory farm. For example, Bob Comis, a pig farmer who has been haunted by the screams of the animals he raised and killed, discussed recently how a “deeply bedded pen” facility is an industrial, concrete shed with disgusting conditions and brutal crowding -- an industry average of 4 x 2.75 feet of living space for a 250 pound animal that is 4 feet long. (Imagine a 250 pound man living his entire life in a bathtub.) The only difference from a CAFO is that the farmer throws in some straw…. and, of course, charges a huge price premium.

 Even on "humane" farms, pigs are intensively confined in as little as 5 square feet of space. 

Even on "humane" farms, pigs are intensively confined in as little as 5 square feet of space. 

But there are a small number of farms that genuinely raise their animals in pastures. Small scale and exorbitantly expensive, these farms are, in fact, growing in number, as niche foodie products of all types have exploded in the past 10 years. Does pasture raised farming present a reasonable alternative to conventional factory farms?  

Resoundingly, no.

First, we have no land. One illustrative example: giving a reasonable living standard to a single pig requires more than 2000 square feet of land (the size of a large-ish apartment), according to pig farmer Comis. This would require devoting almost 200 times more space than even a so-called “humane”, "free-range" farm, where the pigs (on average) receive 10.7 square feet of space. That's not feasible in a world where 30% of all land mass is already devoted to animal agriculture. Truly humane farming, in other words, is a physical impossibility.

Second, even pasture raised suppliers are horrifically cruel. Exploitation of animals, it turns out, necessarily requires… exploitation.

DxE activists saw one vivid example of this at a chicken rescue over this past weekend. Two hundred fifty gentle souls, depleted by three years of egg production, were about to be rewarded with a violent death, for the years of toil on behalf of a cruel master. Taken from a truly small scale farm that raised its chickens on pastures, you might think that they would be in good health.

A hen with a bloody, deformed, and crippled leg due to a band embedded into her by a callous master. 

But you would be wrong. Afflicted with all manner of ailments, from vent blockages to respiratory infections to parasites, the chickens were far from happy and healthy. But perhaps most disturbingly, dozens of the hens were limping severely or completely crippled because, it turns out, their master never bothered to remove the leg bands from their young feet. As the chickens grew, the bands constricted their legs, causing bloody and grotesque deformities, swelling, and permanently crippling many of them. We spent hours grooming, cleaning, and carefully clipping the leg band off of these poor souls, hours that a farmer at ANY scale simply would not have. Because caring for an animal properly, it turns out, requires…. well, time and care. Time and care that a for-profit business of any size simply does not have.

At this point it seems almost unnecessary to offer a third reason that “humane” animal farming is simply an impossibility: the inevitability of killing. We have noted previously that almost all of the animals killed in animal agriculture are killed as children -- babies, in some cases. A “broiler chicken” that might have a natural lifespan of 8 years, for example, is typically killed at 6 or so weeks. Pigs that can live for over a decade are murdered at 6 months, when their still juvenile bodies are young and supple. Even dairy cows, whom farmers have an incentive to keep alive longer as milk producers, are typically slaughtered at 5 years of age, a mere one fourth of their natural lifespan.

Each of these animals did not want to die. They were welcomed into the universe of stimulation and experience, meaning and fulfillment, that we all call life. And by killing them, we take that from them -- we take everything from them -- for the sake of a juicy piece of flesh.

And when an individual animal -- scared and alone -- sees that her life is about to be taken, as Bob Comis notes, she completely loses it. Scrambling desperately to free herself from her tormentors, wailing in terror at her impending doom, and even engaging in self harm in a desperate attempt to escape her fate… this (and not Chipotle’s Orwellian happy meat fantasy) is the reality of humane farming.

And this is why DxE’s campaign to bust the humane myth is so absolutely vital. We cannot allow violent corporations to take everything from the weakest and most vulnerable among us… and pretend they are doing the oppressed a kindness. 

With 37 cities, increasing public attention, and a shift even in the largest animal non-profits (PETA and COK, for example, have recently taken a stand against "humane" farming), our story is finally gaining the traction that the animals desperately need. But we need your help in keeping our momentum going. So join us, and activists all over the world, in speaking clearly and loudly

Pastured raised or battery caged. Free range or factory farmed. Small scale or industrial-sized. It matters not a bit. Because it's not Food. It's Violence. 

RGB Vegan Interviews Ronnie Rose on DxE's Origins, the Dangers of Corporate "Values Integration," and Advice for New Vegans

 Ronnie (on the right) at a recent It's not Food, It's Violence demonstration. 

Ronnie (on the right) at a recent It's not Food, It's Violence demonstration. 

Ronnie Rose on RGB Vegan

by DxE

Ronnie Rose, co-founding organizer of DxE, is not a name you'll necessarily know. But he did the remarkable video work that launched DxE into the world, with a splash, in early 2013. And it was conversations with Ronnie that shaped, and created the momentum for, the formation of our grassroots network. 

Since that time, Ronnie has been, in many ways, the theoretical voice of DxE. You might have read his powerful piece, The Soul of the Animal Rights Movement is Up for Grabs, or heard about DxE's graphic images study, which we commissioned in part because of a relationship Ronnie struck up with the brilliant political scientist Tim Pachirat. But in more ways than one, Ronnie has continued to be a key contributor to not just DxE's growth but, perhaps even more important, its anti-speciesist integrity. Ronnie has helped us maintain our strong commitment to animal liberation -- in our words, in our practices, and (especially) in our tactics and strategy. 

Ronnie recently had the opportunity to give a wonderful talk about the It's not Food, It's Violence campaign with our Phoenix chapter, PALS. And afterwards, one of the attendees, Joshua at RGB Vegan, was so impressed that he interviewed him for his podcast. In the interview, you'll hear about: 

- DxE's founding story
- the sinister marketing strategy -- "values integration" -- used by Chipotle and other humane washers to twist popular values in favor of eating animals
- some simple advice for new vegans. 

Check it out, and make sure you subscribe to RGB Vegan on iTunes