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Interview with Marie and Butterfly, Founders of Solfood Catering and Cafe Caravan

Interview with Marie and Butterfly, Founders of Solfood Catering and Cafe Caravan

By Natalie Blanton

I grew up in a sleepy, conservative, violence- and hunter-centric Utah mountain town. Unintended teen pregnancy and deer-skinnings in the front yard were visible and rampant. It was this environment that cultivated my awe, wonder, and full alignment with ecofeminism, veganism, liberationism, and the diverse feminist fights occurring across society today.

A few weeks back, I was contacted by a pair of women identifying as Marie and Butterfly of Solfood Catering, hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas. They spoke my language. They were working directly with Carol Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, the mother goddess of all my ecofeminist ideologies; and shared my passion for the inextricable ties between plant-based diets, animal liberation and women’s liberation.

Marie and Butterfly are currently on tour as Café Caravan, with their remarkable ability of creating delectable vegan food, bringing people together with a liberationist message, and bridging the divide between human and nonhuman animal rights.

Interviewer Natalie Blanton (far right), her partner Harold (far left) and the Solfood Catering team (center).

Interviewer Natalie Blanton (far right), her partner Harold (far left) and the Solfood Catering team (center).

I had a chance to interviewing these two wonderful women about their tour, their involvement in the Animal Liberation Movement, and their stories:

NB: What made you originally go vegan?

Both: Health reasons, initially; but then, personal research and experience led us to other avenues of vegan outreach and activism.

Marie: I was in Egypt when I encountered a horse in a cramped corner market. It was harnessed with blinders on, undernourished, and looked generally miserable. I could feel its presence, though—more than animals ever before. I remember thinking, “What is your name?” to the horse, and the response came back overwhelmingly: “I don’t know.” I decided right then and there that we do not have to treat other beings like this.

NB: What did you think when you first heard of veganism?

Marie: I thought it was so extreme and only raw foods.

Butterfly: I thought it sounded like something I wanted to try—but just couldn’t because it would be too expensive or too hard. When I gave it a try, my joint problems, insomnia…everything just stopped. It heals the body.

NB: How did this vegan outreach come out of Little Rock?

Butterfly: It began with the raw food movement and public support at farmer’s markets on the weekends. People would smell our food and not believe it was vegan.

NB: How do you equate feminism with veganism?

Marie: Read The Sexual Politics of Meat—once you have read that, you cannot forget it. People think that dairy products are “so humane,” but this could not be less true. Kept constantly pregnant and lactating sounds worse to me than death. By making a slave of the cow and then killing the body once it can no longer produce—that is how you get your dairy.

Patriarchy couldn’t survive without this enslavement and cooption of female bodies. People no longer have to do that work—these creatures are simply fed into the machine and forgotten.

Butterfly: The humane meat movement is ridiculous. You think it’s better to treat someone nicely and then kill them?

NB: What are some ways in which your business has supported, or seeks to support, feminist groups, actions and initiatives?

Both: Our business supports feminist actions by offering plant-based nutrition workshops to populations of underserved mothers and women, thus sharing with them the ideals of how their tation in life is connected to the liberation of other species.

We give workshops on women's health, for example—fibroid elimination and cancer prevention. That workshop gives them a plethora of information, from how to eliminate the actual fibroid to how to heal themselves mentally and spiritually. We reiterate that diseases that affect women aren't just physical ailments—they are often self-esteem driven and/or environmentally driven.

Focusing on what things in our lives are no longer valid and hold us back, making us feel less than, and then taking steps to rid ourselves of them helps us to become viable, contributing forces in the world and for ourselves. Self-care is important, and most women have not a clue. To be a feminist/activist, you have to first love yourself. Otherwise, you won't be around to make a difference for women—or anybody. 

NB: I have received many critiques of animal rights activism as being a classist, white, privileged movement. Can you comment on this for me?

Marie: Go ask 500 million Hindus and the rest of the world who does this all of their lives. Some of the world’s poorest are thriving off of this lifestyle. If meat is eaten in these communities, it is a fraction of their intake. Everybody in the village can be fed off of a few grains for weeks. Take a look at tofu’s protein and nutrient make-up and compare that to the same amount of ground beef. Then we can have this conversation of price comparisons.

NB: Do you have any advice to offer to liberationists organizations regarding how they can better embrace communities of color, and/or how to reach across classes, here in the US?

Both: Yes, and in fact we were just discussing this challenge a few days ago!  These liberation organizations need to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak, with the topic of police brutality having its day in the sun in national media. There are so many disaffected young people of color with no purpose, calling or motivation that have so much energy that can be channeled in a positive direction. There should be outreach programs that specifically target these communities. Take it to the schools, take it to the corners, take it to the churches.

Everyone wants to talk about there is no food, there are no jobs, etc. Taking time with young people to teach them and engage them in the arts, including gardening, gives them direction, focus and something to do.

We ran a program a couple of years ago called Fresh Start, where we worked with a group of young women of color to plant a garden in the yards of people from our community. We had two volunteers who allowed us to come into their homes and lay out plans for a garden. The girls not only dug the gardens and planted seeds with us, but they were also responsible for the filming of this process.  Teaching theses two skills has given them something that they can take and make their own. We can't just sit by and say, “The youth are causing problems; they have no direction.” We have to be bold enough to seek them out and give them something worthwhile and productive to do. If we don't, someone else will.

NB:  I am curious as to how the South of the United States responds to veganism?

Marie: We have been keen and aware of this as well. We have been showing low-income parents these “Cooking Matters” classes.

Butterfly: We explain to them that if they live in a resource or food “desert”—an environment or city that does not have walk-able resources (within 1 mile), such as fresh fruits, vegetables, or grocery stores—like many of us do in the South, by grabbing bulk non-perishable legumes you can have meals for weeks. Try your local Mexican or ethnic markets for legumes (dried beans, etc.) they are inexpensive and last forever. Try twp bags of lentils, seasoned; put some grain and lettuce in with them, and you have meals for days.

Marie: In areas with high minority concentrations, farming and gardening continues to be connected to slavery. There is stigma against growing your own food, and it is almost a status symbol to be able to go to the grocery store or through the fast food drive-thru. In Little Rock, there is a center for Urban Farming and Ecology with different organizations doing outreach regarding how to grow for yourself and your family; but there is such a resistance. You cannot be an outsider who thinks they can make a change—you need to be there for years.

Butterfly: Teach your kids to play in the dirt. They need that tactile connection to the earth. We need to teach new generations of people to live off of the land and be willing to work in urban farms.

Marie: Once young people get to high school, it is too late. Arkansas has a summer program called Learning through the Arts. I teach the culinary arts and 95% of my students, from low-income and rougher pasts, do not understand what average vegetables look like or where they come from. They couldn’t identify anything beyond green beans.

NB: How do you think veganism and your movement can aid in combating hunger?

Marie: We get this “escapism” mentality in November and December. We allow ourselves to indulge and escape from the humdrum everyday reality and world.

Butterfly: Everything gets all glossy this time of year—but come January 1st we are right back to where we were.

Marie: There is a stigma attached to being poor, and a lot of people will not ask for help; but just like there is no shame in helping others, there is no shame in being poor. People across the spectrum are working equally as hard; there needs to be redistribution of wealth. Businesses, corporations, and farms need to be a part of this redistribution, and not just write it off.

Butterfly: Empathy and compassion are lost when there is this solution—making everything a tax write off. It is hard to think about people in your own community being hungry when there is a new iPhone coming out. This is escapism; this is what consumerism and capitalism is built around. Got to give them something, right?

NB: The Internet world would have it known that these are all currents of influence that will eventually and inevitably fade. Is this all a fad? Feminism? Veganism?

Marie: Well, you know feminism isn’t a fad.

Butterfly: Veganism is not a fad; but there is always going to be somebody who wants it to remain unpopular because it is trying to change their ideas. It works; healing our bodies and our planet is not a fad.

NB: What do you want to say to feminists who are not vegan, or who refuse to equate animal rights with human rights?

Butterfly: I have two words for these people: Rape Racks.

Marie: Yeah, tell them about the Rape Racks—the dairy farmer slang for the mechanism used to artificially inseminate and perpetually impregnate mother cows. Also, encourage them to read The Sexual Politics of Meat and then see where they stand. Simply observe your environment. Where did that milk and cheese come from? How do we have this constant supply of milk? Why are we the only animals that drink milk into our later life?

We also need to encourage empathy for all animals. If you can have empathy for your dog or your cat, you can have it for a cow or a chicken. 

***

Here’s to you, Marie and Butterfly of Solfood Catering and Café Caravan. Thank you for sharing social justice and vegan love in such a unique way. These remarkable ladies are currently on tour, and may very well be coming to a city near you. I could not encourage you more to take this opportunity to catch up with them in person, or on their Facebook page. You can also donate to their initiatives here

Interview with John Sanbonmatsu, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Interview with John Sanbonmatsu, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute

By Saryta Rodriguez

 

SR: First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with Direct Action Everywhere.

JS:  Thanks for asking me. 

John Sanbonmatsu

John Sanbonmatsu

SR: In your book, The Postmodern Prince: Critical Theory, Left Strategy and the Making of a New Political Subject, you discuss the philosophical and social transition from prioritizing the development of a “common language of politics” (as advocated by Marx, Engels and others) to the current “deconstruction of discourse” prevailing in various social movements today—including the AR movement. 

Would you care to elaborate on how such deconstruction challenges the progress of the AR movement, from your perspective?

JS:  The problem is not so much deconstruction, as such, but what became known as the "postmodern turn" in scholarship in the humanities under the influence of French poststructuralist philosophers like Lyotard, Derrida, Foucault, Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari, and so on.   There are insights to be gotten out of some of these theorists (though some more than others).  The trouble is, poststructuralism is an exceedingly poor basis for formulating a substantive politics of any kind.  First, because poststructuralists want to distance themselves from humanism and Marxism, they are positively averse to normativity.  That is, they equivocate on important values, particularly in the realm of ethics, e.g. eschewing language of liberation or oppression (because their theory of language and power essentially implicates all of us in complex discourses rather than in responsibilities).

Postmodernist critical animal studies scholars insist that we all have “blood on our hands”—which is both true and beside the point, because such statements obscure the sociological dimensions of power, i.e. which groups have more of it than others, and why.  Some such theorists even warn us not to use the language of “animal rights” at all—objecting, on recondite theoretical grounds, that in talking about “rights” we end up reproducing “humanism” and the repressive apparatus of the State.  Others, like Donna Haraway, essentially defend the instrumental domination, use and killing of other animals. (Incidentally, Haraway has been invited to give the keynote address at animal studies conferences, where she has attacked vegans and veganism.)

In addition to this fuzziness or equivocation around values, poststructuralism occludes social phenomena, muddying the waters of theory by imposing abstract metaphysical concepts on empirical reality—e.g., “biopolitics,” “cyborgs,” “hybrids,” “memes,” “differance,” “actants,” “bodies that matter,” etc.  These terms bear about them the aura of de nouveau, the New, “the cool.”  They shine and have the allure of newly minted knowledge commodities—discursive coinage that bestows upon its bearer an aura of respectability and sophistication, within an economic structure of scarcity within the university system: scarce jobs, and even scarcer intellectual courage.

The responsibility of theory is in fact not to complicate our understanding of the world—which is already complicated and confusing enough—but to simplify it, to make it easier to grasp its essential or underlying features.  Theory should not make the world more complicated than it already is. 

Read full response here. 

SR: It’s no secret that ours is a movement wrought with semantic differences, with objections flying left and right to this or that term (as one also often encounters in discussions of gender and sexual orientation).  Do you see any potential benefit or value to semantic hairsplitting within the AR movement? Or is it a mere distraction, a waste of time?

JS:  If you mean the debate between welfarism and liberationism, I think that that debate, that distinction, does matter—and all the more so today, when the "humane meat" movement has taken over so much of the welfare wing of the movement.  I also think that arguments over tactics, particularly the problem of violence, are worth having.  That said, there's no doubt that we need to find a way to engage in debates without falling into ad hominem attacks and becoming so obsessed with definitions that we lose sight of what matters—other animals.  There are outsized egos in our movement, particular male egos; and as a consequence there is also a great deal of aggression in some of these debates (I have to cop to this one myself). 

One of the false dilemmas currently being bandied about is the old chestnut that reform and revolution are at odds with one another; but the question is how to go about seeking reforms of the current system without compromising our long-term goal of abolition.  What is key is that our campaigns chip away at the foundations of speciesism as a system and the only way that can happen is to show how single-issue reforms or campaigns are expressions of a deeper liberationist framework, rather than not from a welfarist one.  But welfarism and reformism are not the same.  One can consistently hold the position that Seaworld should be shut down, say, without along the way contrasting its immoral policies to so-called "better run" marine parks.  (There is an excellent Master's thesis on this, by the way, by Elizabeth Smith, a recent graduate of the Brock University animal studies program.)  Whatever we do, we always have to be challenging the core ideology of speciesism. 

SR:  Thank you for that insight.  I agree that this distinction is valuable; however, do you have any thoughts on other common semantic arguments in the AR movement, such as whether or not it's "okay" to employ the term vegan? I know a lot of activists have mixed feelings about whether using this term in particular is positive, negative, or neutral/inconsequential.

JS:  The word “vegan” is rather unavoidable, I think—at least in the context of eating.  At the same time, “veganism” is often a weak substitute or placeholder for the broader theme of animal liberation or animal rights.  “Veganism,” as you know, is associated in many people’s minds with one’s food preferences, even one’s “lifestyle.” Being vegan is seen as akin to being gluten intolerant, diabetic, or merely a finicky eater (as in, “Oh, I forgot—you’re vegan!  Where should we go where you can find something to eat?”). 

More radical or political “vegans,” of course, view veganism more broadly than this, encompassing a variety of other animal rights concerns with that term; but even to me, it is unclear why being a “vegan” as such should commit me to a public stance against vivisection, aquariums, or habitat destruction.  To answer your question, then, I would say that the animal rights movement would be wise to emphasize concepts of universal citizenship—as Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka, the authors of Zoopolis, have argued—or otherwise develop a language and movement of general emancipation—one that takes the emphasis away from “diet.” 

Some years ago, I coined the term “metahumanism” to describe an ideology and praxis of universal freedom for humans and nonhumans: a democratic, feminist, socialist praxis that would include animal liberation at its center.  Apparently, though, it was a non-starter; so someone else should think of a way of representing our project to the broader public!  It needs to be clear to people that what is at stake is not simply a set of eating guidelines, but a total critique of society—of a way of life that has become inimical to life.

SR: Much of your work centers on the notion of critical theory: applying knowledge of social sciences to assess and critique society and culture.  Many readers may have encountered this term in Sociology 101 courses; but what insight does critical theory lend to AR activism today? Would you say it is being implemented efficiently, relative to its use in past social justice movements?

JS:  What makes critical theory "critical" is that it sets out from a point of view of social critique—a rejection of the dominant values and institutions of our culture (in this case, the rejection of speciesism as a mode of producing human life).  The purpose of critical theory is twofold.  At minimum, first, its function is to give us a clearer sense of what the "problem" actually is.  This is crucial.  How can we form campaigns, tactics or strategies, to solve a social problem without first understanding it?  For example, some animal rights activists seem to think that convincing people to become vegan will end animal agriculture; but the main force driving our exploitation of nonhuman beings today is capitalism as a world system. Evidently, then, changing people's dietary habits, while important, is not going to be enough.  Buying vegan burgers, for instance, may actually be reinforcing the system of speciesism because, in many cases, it profits the very same companies who are marketing meat products, such as Whole Foods.  So what may at first appear to be an unproblematic intervention may in reality subtly strengthen the system as a whole.  Hence the role of the intellectual (whether the astute grassroots activist or the professional sociologist or philosopher)—which is, first of all, to acquaint us with the facts—becomes crucial. 

But "facts" are fluid, cultural, and semiotic:  they include our use of language, representations of animals in literature and media, the political economies of the meat system, and so on. And they cannot be stumbled across by accident.  We have to be out looking for them, using the tools of theory.

In addition to illuminating the nature of the problem (or rather, problems, because speciesism is merely one key spoke on a giant wheel of interconnected systems of oppression and violence), critical theory can also help us think strategically about social change, by identifying points of weakness or contradiction in the current system. The history of critical theory actually succeeding at this is not terrible encouraging.  Marx and Engels were brilliant at diagnosing the contradictions of capitalism, but not very good at theorizing revolution.  (Most of the revolutions of the 20th century occurred in peasant-based societies, not highly industrialized ones, and most of them ended up being steeped in blood, before dissolving altogether.)  That said, at its best, critical theory can serve as a kind of compass, or as "map-making.” Even if the "map" we have is incomplete and in constant need of revision, it's better than not having any sense of direction at all.

SR: One of the primary goals of Direct Action Everywhere is to dispel the Humane Myth: the notion that there is a kind, “humane” way to enslave and ultimately murder a sentient being.  We understand this is also of the utmost importance to you; care to tell us why?

JS:  It is clear that the meat system is in crisis.  This could be an occasion for radical change.  As a species, we could seize this opportunity to embark on a new form of human life: one that would not be organized around the perpetual sexual reproduction and mass murder of billions of our biological kin.  Instead, we find sectors of the capitalist economy working very hard to prevent this from happening.  The system is doing everything it can to protect itself, by creating the illusion that one can "care" about animals while still wanting them to die violently at our own hands. Unfortunately, the strategy has been succeeding.

The reason why has to do with speciesism's "mode of legitimation," or characteristic way of defending itself as an idea and social practice.  Speciesism rests on a single pillar—the idea that human beings are superior to all of the other beings on earth, and that this superiority grants us a natural right to make use of the other beings however we like (a notion I have called "human species right").  As an ideology, this mode of legitimation obviously doesn't work quite as well as it once did.  The animal rights movement has raised consciousness about the brutal realities of animal agriculture.  Meanwhile, the global warming crisis has heightened awareness of the ecologically unsustainable nature of factory farming.  In other words, "meat" as an idea—or perhaps I should say as an ideal (as the preferred way for human beings to get their sustenance)—has become unstable, in direct proportion to the deepening of the ecological and moral contradictions at the heart of the system.  As a consequence, the animal industrial complex, as Kim Stallwood and others have called it, needs to be legitimated or justified in novel ways. 

Enter Michael Pollan and critics like him, who are essentially stabilizing the meat economy by telling consumers that they can have their meat and their consciences too. As we all know, middle class, mostly white consumers are buying into the "humane" myth.  Unfortunately, their strategy has been succeeding remarkably well, thanks to the pro-meat intelligentsia and the organic farming movement.  (I'm told that even the new Cowspiracy film focuses narrowly on the question of ecological sustainability, and entirely circumvents the real problem with animal agriculture, which is that it is mass violence and wholly unjust.)  Ironically, but perhaps by design, the new consumption regime is helping to stabilize factory farming, by reinforcing the bedrock ideological principle of speciesism, which is that the lives of other animals are without any intrinsic value—which means that we can exterminate billions of them without having to suffer any moral pangs.  Buying "pasture-raised" beef or organic eggs is like casting a vote for perpetual human dominion.

SR: What barriers have you encountered, or do you perhaps foresee, with respect to confronting the Humane Myth? How might it have become so thoroughly embedded in our culture that even those who label themselves “animal-lovers” or “anti-cruelty” nevertheless remain under its sway? I know this is a loaded question; but any insights or opinions you might have on the matter would be most appreciated.

JS:  Well, it already is embedded, I'm afraid.  There are probably two main reasons for it.  First, people are "interpellated" or conditioned by their culture to think selfishly and in terms of their own material comforts.  Consumer capitalism fragments society, isolates us as individuals, and leads us away from collective moral and spiritual reflection.  No one wants to reflect seriously on the meaning of their lives, let alone to soberly face their complicity in what amount to crimes and atrocities.  Eating animal products is convenient and aesthetically pleasing for many, which primes people to want to dismiss animal rights activists as lunatics or extremists. 

French philosopher, playwright, novelist, political activist, biographer, and literary critic Jean-Paul Sartre.

French philosopher, playwright, novelist, political activist, biographer, and literary critic Jean-Paul Sartre.

Second, and relatedly, we human beings often exist in a state of what the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called "bad faith."  That is, we continually make excuses for behavior we know is not really justified, deep down, so that we won't have to take responsibility for the choices we make as free beings.  This is why, when meat-eaters are challenged to reexamine their beliefs by vegetarians or vegans, they spontaneously invent the same fallacious arguments that everyone else does:  "plants are alive, too," "as long as we treat the animals respectfully, it's okay to harvest them," "lions eat gazelles, so it must be okay for us to eat animals," and so on.  We simply don't want to acknowledge what we are doing.   There is even anecdotal evidence in the news media that many former vegetarians are eating meat again, now that animals are supposedly being raised "sustainably" and "ethically."  Of course, such individuals probably never really cared about the animals, deep down, anyway:  they perhaps became vegetarians or vegans to demonstrate to themselves and others that they were progressive-minded, that they were properly concerned about "the environment" or what have you.  Bad faith, through and through.

None of us in the animal rights movement are innocent of bad faith, either.  There are plenty of vegans who think they are ethically pure, even though they consume products that are made with sweatshop labor in Asia, or indirectly cause animal suffering and death.  We can't entirely escape bad faith.  The question Sartre posed is how we might live more "authentically," by being vigilant to our propensity to escape our freedom.  All that we can do as activists is to point out the contradictions and hypocrisies in people's attitudes toward the other beings, and to show them what is really happening.

SR: In a letter to Aaron Gross of Farm Forward, you made a brilliant case against the Humane Myth while defending previous comments comparing the meat industry to the Holocaust.  This comparison is almost as common as it is controversial; but I admired your ability to dissect the issue. How did he respond? Was the interaction ultimately constructive, from your perspective?

JS:  The letter I wrote, which was published on Robert Grillo's Free From Harm website, was my response to an email Aaron sent to me after I contacted Farm Forward and told them what I thought of their morally repugnant work. Gross never responded to my critique; not a single word—even though Robert invited him to write a reply for the website.  Frankly, I don't see how he could have replied.  He must know, deep down, that I and others are right about this—that Farm Forward and other groups are colluding with evil.

In terms of the comparison between our treatment of animals to the Shoah or Nazi extermination of European Jewry and Roma, there are simply too many similarities to ignore.  At the same time, we should take care to note that our treatment of animals resembles genocide as such, slavery as such.  It isn't just the Holocaust that we should be talking about, but slavery in the ancient world and in the Americas, the Rape of Nanking by the Japanese, and so on. 

SR:  Critical theorists are captivated by the nature, meaning, and significance of power. How do you think the discourse and practice of animal agriculture—particularly "humane" meat—influence the pervasive power imbalance between humans and non-humans? How is that power imbalance related to other systems of power, and how might we most effectively challenge it? 

JS:  Unfortunately, the problem of "power" has largely disappeared in critical theory, thanks to the outsized influence of Michel Foucault and other poststructuralists, who drew attention away from classical conceptions of power as ideological hegemony to focus on "micro" power—power dwelling exclusively in the interstices of discourse, language, the comportment of our bodies, and so on.  This is not to say that Foucault and others didn't make a contribution to our understanding of power, because they did; however, with the exception of Marxists, a few remaining radical feminists, many sociologists, and some critical race theorists, theorists have otherwise ceased to be interested in power as a relational concept—as the dominance of one group over another.  Symptomatically, Judith Butler, the poststructuralist feminist, has essentially removed the term "patriarchy" from the lexicon of feminism, making it very difficult, as a consequence, to "name" the problem of male domination.

In terms of "humane meat," as I said, the entire discourse reinvigorates speciesism as a mode of domination, by providing ideological cover for the underlying principle of domination and violence, which it utterly fails to examine.  In this sense, the sustainable meat and locavore movements can be seen as a rearguard action by the intelligentsia and Western middle class to secure their right to appropriate the bodies of other beings, in the face of the animal rights critique.

You ask how this system of dominance is related to others, and how to challenge it.  Many fine scholars have shown the ways that speciesism reinforces and is reinforced by other systems of power and inequality, including capitalism, patriarchy, racism, and so on.  The only thing I would say as a caveat to such analyses is that we shouldn't succumb to the metaphysical presumption that all systems of oppression are equal in strategic or political significance, even though we must agree that they are all of equal moral importance.  In my opinion, capitalism and patriarchy pose the two greatest challenges to animal liberation today:  capitalism because it drives animal exploitation economically, ideologically and politically ("politically" insofar as the state is effectively controlled by big business); and male dominance because it propagates a value structure of objectification, domination, and violence.  Militarized masculinity and misogyny are also at fault—think of the recent "Gamer Gate" controversy—because patriarchy is antithetical to the development of an ethic of care, one that would place compassion toward other beings at its center.

SR: Your work also refers to intersectionality: the study of the intersections of various forms of oppression and abuse. This is paramount to Direct Action Everywhere, as we often host lectures and discussions about the relationships between speciesism, racism and sexism.  However, while opponents to any of these systems should naturally oppose the others, many do not.  How might we build bridges between groups who share the AR passion for justice and equality, but who may themselves persist in engaging in speciesist behavior?

JS:  I think that what DxE is doing to bring these issues together is admirable and important and timely.  I don't have a solution to this important problem, however, other than to say that we who constitute the left-wing sector of the AR movement need to keep showing up at protests and conferences of the political Left to insist that our voices and those of the animals be heard.  I think sometimes of the efforts of feminists within the US antiwar movement in the late 1960s, who tried to introduce questions of women's equality to the movement but were initially greeted by their male comrades with rape jokes.  The women eventually won!  However, the problem for the AR movement is that, unlike feminism, which spoke on behalf of one of the most sizable human constituencies there is—women as a class—we in the AR movement represent only a tiny sliver of the human population.  So unless we press our points and become something of a nuisance, we will continue to be ignored by the wider Left.  The challenge is to be insistent and unbending, without, however, lapsing into self-righteous indignation and shaming behaviors, which historically have been poisonous to building and sustaining large-scale social movements.

SR:  Aside from encouraging one anti-hatred group, such as a group of feminists, to live a more non-human-friendly lifestyle (by illustrating that “bovine women” are raped repeatedly to promote pregnancy and, in turn, milk production, for instance), how might animal liberationists—who ultimately fight for the freedom and equality of all species, including homo sapiens—effectively support and embrace other movements without jeopardizing our own? As an AR advocate, is taking a firm public stance on sexism, racism or any other –ism too risky?

JS:  I'm very ambivalent, actually, about the strategy of asking feminists to take animal rights seriously by emphasizing milk production and pregnancy, i.e. the oppression of their "sisters."  Gender is simply a meaningless concept when applied to nonhuman beings—a human projection.  As Carol Adams, Josephine Donovan, and other ecofeminists have shown, speciesist discourse often "animalizes" women and correspondingly depicts farm animals like cows and chickens as "feminine."  Our job is to deconstruct this fraudulent way of conceiving of gender and power, not to subtly reinforce it by suggesting that a cow is a "woman," which is absurd.  It is certainly true that women who choose to give birth, who have had that experience, may more keenly appreciate the heart-wrenching cruelty involved in, say, tearing a newborn calf away from his mother's side and throwing him into a veal crate; but many women don't have children, and don't want to.  And we musn't forget that many of the most outspoken proponents of killing animals in the carno-locavore movement are women—many of them, like Barbara Kingsolver, with children of their own.  In fact, the so-called "femivore" discourse of meat deploys "maternal" metaphors of "caring" for infant animals—before killing them!  So emphasizing the supposed natural solidarity between women and animals seems like a mistake to me.  Moreover, men are just as capable of empathizing with cows and calves as women are, and half of the victims of animal agriculture (not to mention scientific experiments, zoos, etc.) are male animals.

To the substance of your question, though, I always go back to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s point that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."  The reason we have to support the movement for gender equality for women and members of the LGBTQ is not simply that animal liberationism ultimately depends to some degree on human social liberation—which it does—but because it is the right thing to do.  How we do that will always be complicated and difficult, and I don't have anything to add to what DxE and a few others are already doing.

SR:  In your opinion, how should AR groups navigate the waters of being inclusive and welcoming while remaining committed to ending oppression? For instance, what is to be done with a potential AR advocate who wants to work with an AR coalition, but makes plain that he or she is sexist or racist? Should such individuals be excluded entirely, or might they still be of some value to the movement?

JS:  This is a certainly tough question.  The Left, including feminism, has historically had a very hard time building sustainable movement cultures, in part because of our tendency as human beings to want everyone to see the world as we do.  On the one hand, if we're serious about so-called "intersectionality"—or universal justice, which is how I would prefer to describe it—then we obviously want to build a movement that is as "prefigurative" as possible. We want to build, here and now in our movement, in a concrete way, a mini-version of the idealized society of the future that we are striving towards.  However, human beings are imperfect, and always will be.  No matter how sure I am that I'm right and you're wrong, I need to acknowledge my capacity for error and poor judgment.  So we need to approach our activism with a generous dose of humility and humor.  This means being vigilant to self-righteousness, to "purges" of those who waver from an intellectual or political orthodoxy, to public shaming of those who disagree with us, whom we perceive as possessing "less evolved" opinions or attitudes than we do. 

This isn't to say that we should ignore sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, etc., within our movement.  The question, rather, is how do we confront them?  When someone makes a sexist remark, say—and inevitably somebody will, because none of us are innocent of these structures—do we jump on them and tell them to leave the room, or even the movement?  Or do we firmly but respectfully tell them how we feel about their remark, and explain why we think it's inappropriate or damaging? 

I don't think the question should ever be whether this or that person has "some value to the movement," which strikes me as an instrumental conception of other persons.  Rather, the question is whether the individual can be "reached" or not.  Some people don't play well with others, and they aren't able or willing to change.  If someone within an organization, therefore, is disruptive, or repeatedly saying hurtful or ignorant things, and isn't open to an honest dialogue about their attitudes, then clearly they don't belong there.  But that's different from turning on a well-meaning white person, say, who enters a movement naively, without having been asked before to reflect on his or her race privilege, and faulting them for not already having a graduate-level comprehension of racism.  I do think it's possible to have these difficult conversations, so long as it's handled compassionately and in as non-judgmental a fashion as possible.  All this said, I should say that we need to have to have a zero tolerance policy for people who actually commit sexual assaults or other improprieties (so-called "predatorial" heterosexual men), or who are obstinately racist, etc.

SR: Please tell our readers a bit about your involvement with DxE. 

JS:  To be honest, my involvement in DxE is peripheral, besides these interviews and my participation in a single action at a Chipotle's here in the Boston area.  But I am very sympathetic, obviously, to DxE and what it is trying to achieve. 

SR:  Thank you so much for your time, John.  Before we sign off, is there any remaining advice you’d like to offer to Direct Action Everywhere and other AR coalitions around the world?

JS:  I think the only piece of advice I can give as an "armchair general" (take what I say, therefore, with some skepticism), is that direct action is a tactic, not a strategy, and it should only be used to leverage specific objectives.  I agree with Kim Stallwood that the AR movement globally has been a disappointment in any number of ways, and that we need to get smarter, politically, about how we go about translating an ethical campaign into a political one.  Protesting is not enough, and it can even be counterproductive if it is not done the right way and is not calculated to broaden the movement and push things forward.  The challenge we all face, emotionally and even "existentially," is how to keep advocating radical social change in the face of a pervasive and deep-seated global culture of terrible violence.  We want just to just get out there and "do something;" but we have to think very carefully about what to do, and we have to be careful not to further isolate the movement. 

This is why I am against the use of violence in our movement, or even using violent language.  Quite apart from the ethical contradiction of using violence against animals (i.e. human animals) to protect animals, it's clear that the general human population is not ready to sympathize with violence or even property destruction--for example, arson and the like.  Some theorists have compared destructive, anonymous forms of direct action to the actions of Resistance fighters in France and other occupied areas of Europe under the Nazis.  But that analogy fails, it seems to me, because in the Nazi case, most members of the occupied population sympathized with the saboteurs already.  Also, there was an "outside" to the occupation (the Allied forces trying to defeat Germany), whereas today, by contrast, the vast majority of people are either indifferent to animal rights or hostile to the movement.  In our context, militant tactics that involve property destruction or threats to researchers will probably backfire.  For this reason, I support nonviolent campaigns like Open Rescue, Animal Equality, DxE, and others which have embraced the nonviolent tradition—which is the harder but surer path to follow.

SR:  One last question: What is your spirit animal?

JS:  I am not familiar with the term; but, if pressed, I'd say that my spirit animal is my 12-year-old son.

Dramatize the Issue

Dramatize the Issue (by Kelly)

UPDATE: Glenn Beck personally spent twelve minutes on his talk show talking about the disruption (hatefully, in perfect human supremacist fashion, though with an interesting acknowledgement of how he was taught speciesism).

I have adopted three little girls. One is a dog. Two are chickens. All are family.

You know how that is. Heck, most of America knows how that is where their dog or cat is concerned. The trouble is, we've learned to be so speciesist that we have a hard time seeing a chicken for the social, gentle, loving, clever little girl she is, because we're taught that only animals like "dog" and "cat" are "friend" but other animals like "cow" and "chicken" are called "food" instead -- without ever bothering to listen to what that animal has to say about it, when she cries out in a very clear call for help before a human kills her for his pleasure.

Well, last weekend, with other liberationists at my back, I went into a space that normalizes violence against animals who are not named "human" or "dog" or "cat" and I told the people there (and the people to view the video on the Internet) the story of one of my little girls.

Today it was widely publicized through a conservative web publication, namely by bullies eager to demonstrate their human supremacism, in tandem with threats of violence ("get between me and cooked meat, and i'll show you some violence" and "go away, woman, before we barbeque you") as well as a dash of misogyny ("sorry, but I don't trust females with little boy haircuts" and "crazed woman"), of course. (The publication's Facebook post is here.)

Other leftists, take note: If Glenn Beck's camp hates us this much, we're probably doing something extremely progressive. Leftist politics have everything to do with not treating others badly just because we can -- being against discrimination and violence is core to our position. And it's quite apparently antithetical to theirs, which is why they hate the threat of empathy that we embody. They believe that violence is a joke.

And to the #FirstWorldProblems comment, while I personally have that privilege, it is not hard to find animal rights activists and ethical vegans and anti-speciesist sentiment in any human society, and no actually, the hashtag doesn't justify dismissing the issue and the voices of those who are crying out for help just because they aren't humans. All oppression has the same ideological roots, we can't just fix the "human" problems first and then move on to the other animals. And we certainly shouldn't continue actively harming other animals just because other human animals are still being oppressed, there is no logic to that, unless it's okay to beat and rape and kill me because there are still men who experience oppression at the hands of some other logic of domination and they're just that much more important than me. And we should not judge that one person's suffering is more important than the suffering of any one or one billion others just because that person occupies a privileged class that the others do not.

The #FirstWorldProblems hashtag is used by people complaining about something that happened to them that they acknowledge is trivial. Nothing has happened to me. I have the privileges of being a human in a human supremacist society. The grievance here is from someone who is crying out for help as she desperately tries to escape being murdered. (And currently humans are not listening to her -- rather, we're silencing her -- so I am trying to use my voice to make space for hers.) That's not a triviality. She wants to live, she wants freedom, she wants to be loved, just like you and I and our dog friends. Really, the Blaze article itself should be hastagged #humanproblems, because it's just humans complaining about other humans trying to stop them from engaging in gratuitous acts of violence that they only can participate in because they are humans in a human supremacist society.

Basically all the other comments I've seen are straw humans and attempts at diversion and other obvious fallacies or just plain trolling.

While the speciesist hate speech in the comments may be enraging and disheartening, it is important to remember that confrontations like these and the others we do function to force the issue onto the table. And clearly, people are talking about it, it's not a non-issue that they're dismissing anymore. Instead, they're feeling pressure and retaliating. The animal rights movement is growing and everyone can see that happening.

(I'd like to note too that we should consider it an indication that our message is strong when the opposition themselves reiterates in our terms our attitude that Snow is a "somebody" rather than a something.)

As activists who engage in nonviolent direct action like the activists of the anti-oppression movements before us, we are here to get the dialogue moving, to get the animals' voices on the tables beside their bodies. And it's working. We're here to polarize the debate so people have to take a side and fight for it, and look at how the human supremacists are letting their colours show -- the animals' opponents are making it very clear that they are just violent, oppressive, hateful bullies who aren't particularly interested in empathy, rational conversation, or new ways of thinking. They're very actively and proudly in favor of hurting defenseless animals who just want to live, and they're aggressive towards humans who peacefully speak of a world without cruelty to animals. They're bullies, to the nonhumans and to their human allies. Seriously, whether you read our history books or just watch the movies we make, I think we are all equipped to determine who the bad guy in this story is.

No, this won't be easy. What movement against violent oppression ever was?

Yes, there is hope. Oh, so much of it. Why?

"Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored." (Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter From a Birmingham Jail)

They're not exactly ignoring it.

(PS: The original video is on Facebook and YouTube.)

"You're too militant," the broken record plays.

"You're too militant," the broken record plays. (by Kelly)

Men tried to shame Emmeline Pankhurst into less confrontational approaches, but she recognized anything short of her "militancy" as acquiescence that allowed the suffragette's cause to remain unaddressed. Who does history remember, her, or the ladies who politely asked men to hear their voices while those men made patronizing jokes about them?

When the Greensboro Four defiantly sat at the "Whites Only" counter of the cafeteria, a black waitress said to them, "Fellows like you make our race look bad." But who got that cafeteria desegregated? Who sprung up a movement of civil disobediences that forced the issue of white supremacist tyranny onto the front page of newspapers everywhere and into the public discussion that is necessary for public change?

The activists with ACT UP who disrupted the mass at a homophobic cathedral were condemned by other members of the LGBT community for being “disrespectful” and “militant” (with the negative connotations that term only has for those inclined to give oppressive authorities the subservience they demand). Who brought the gay rights movement to where it is today? Do we really believe it wasn't the people who took the risk of pushing open that closet door and slamming it in the faces of the heterosexists holding it down on them?*

Enough with the "you're too militant" nonsense. People have said it every time, and every time they've been wrong. The oppressors have always tried to use that "warning" (that the rebel's message won't be received if they aren't nice and quiet??) to subdue the allies of the oppressed, and too many allies let it deter them from doing exactly what it turned out they should have. Look at history. Confrontation needs to happen. Dramatizing the issue is what gets people moving. Maybe you personally do not feel comfortable raising your voice for the silenced and if so, I hope we can empower you to choose justice over comfort, but if not, and if you will insist that some forms and levels of accommodation are important (though I question how influenced that position is by both risk-aversiveness and speciesism), then fine, if that's how it is that's how it is. But stop trying to gag those who push harder, unless you can demonstrate that major social upheaval has ever happened through saying nothing but "please." We're just trying to make our cousins' voices heard. Stop helping the oppressors silence the oppressed.

*I'm going to point out here both that the above-ground disruptions that DxE does are hardly "militant" given the reaches activism can go to, and, more significantly, we humans are not even in the oppressed class of the animal liberation fight - opening that door, sitting at that counter and leading that march are actions of essentially no risk for us (and look like nothing at all next to what the animals will go through if we don't take these "risks"), with (as we can gather from the history of direct action) huge potential gains for nonhumans.

Chipotle to Employee: Victim of Domestic Violence? You're Fired!

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Chipotle to Employee: Victim of Domestic Violence? You're Fired!

by Wayne Hsiung

The New York Daily News wrote yesterday about a woman who was fired from her job at Chipotle... for being assaulted by an abusive boyfriend. The company, of course, regales the public with tales of workplace integrity and enthusiasm. It describes every one of its employees, other than its lowest crew member, as a "manager." And CEO Steve Ells talks in a recent Netflix documentary about how he cares for every employee that his corporation -- a 1600+ location monstrosity -- hires. 

But when it came to Natasha Velez, a line worker who chopped vegetables and made guacamole, Chipotle's conception of care apparently did not run very far. And this is par for the course. Chipotle talks a big game -- emphasizing its sustainability (while refusing to make any sort of accountability report), killing millions of animals (while talking about how much it loves them), and promising to never exploit its workers (while paying them a pittance... and then punishing them for being hospitalized by abusive boyfriends). 

We will be writing more about this in the weeks to come. But Chipotle's lies, in short, extend far beyond animal cruelty, as horrific as the animal cruelty is. In more ways than one, Chipotle represents everything that's problematic about corporate America -- a focus on appearing to do good, rather than actually doing good. And by confronting Chipotle, we help to build a vision of the world where we are no longer dependent on, duped by, and even desperate for corporate illusions. We help to build a truly better world. 

A Roadblock in the Intersection

A Roadblock in the Intersection

I recently wrote to a popular feminist group about the intersection of sexism and speciesism.

Their response was problematic.

The group shares a great deal of analytical material on intersectionality within the humans species, and I was deeply disappointed by their unwillingness to consider the role of a widespread form of discrimination, dominance, and violence in patriarchal culture.

They chose to not critically analyze the status quo's position that might makes right, that sexual exploitation is okay (remember, the dairy industry actually calls it a "rape rack"), that killing someone who does not want to die for profit (power) is acceptable, and that domination is fine in the case of some groups of beings being victimized. Instead, they quite confusingly asserted that speaking up for ALL females is not intersectional, because that would infringe on the cultural norms of some violently dominant beings.

The subjugation of the human female body by the dominant male body will never stop unless we address the subjugation of the nonhuman body by the dominant human body. (Remember too that investigations of dairy farms routinely catch farmers hitting the female cows while calling them "cunt" and "whore" and other misogynist terms of subjugation. And what is a "bitch" but a being who resists the man trying to forcibly use her body for his profit?)

The person I communicated with wrote the following in response to my suggestion that they consider and share this article: "We are unable to post this article, because it does not support our mission of being inclusive and intersectional. We can't be prescriptive about eating, because meat-eating is important to a lot of cultures, and we're a global and intersectional collective."

Right, because nothing any feminist ever does puts the needs of the oppressed before things like "culture"?

And "meat-eating"? You mean "animal-eating." You mean "weaker-being-killing." You mean "speciesism." You mean "violence." You mean "dominance." You mean "subjugation." And you mean "patriarchy." Check that human privilege. Feminists must speak up against ALL oppression.

When we reduce animals to "meat" and talk about how (and "what") people eat, we set up a framing that allows people to perceive our assertion that dominance, violence, and discrimination are unjust as being non-intersectional, because they're not thinking about that dominance, violence, and discrimination. They're locked in their speciesist society's insistence that animals are ours to use.

NO ONE is anyone else's to use.

I hope that all self-indentified feminists will continue to speak up about the intersections of oppression, and further -- as this is the only way we will dismantle misogynist culture -- to come to speak up for all females, and against all subjugation.

And it is our responsibility as advocates of justice to always challenge ourselves, each other, and others to consider and combat the intersections of all oppressions.

-Kelly

Feminism & Liberationism

Feminism & Liberationism

Last weekend, a few of our Organizers led a presentation and engaging discussion on the intersection of sexism and speciesism, and the importance of feminism to the animal liberation movement (and vis versa).

Download a PDF of the presentation and key discussion questions here!

Some of the key points we discussed:

  • Male-dominated sexism results in the subjugation of the nonmale body ("misogyny" or, systematically, "patriarchy") and human-dominated speciesism results in the subjugation of the nonhuman body. Both of these discriminations thrive on the principle of "might makes right." When fully realized, both discriminations render the "inferior" group as the property of the male human animal. Such a structuring of society "... is conceivable only in the context of a worldview in which bodies are things rather than selves” (Pattrice Jones).
  • These discriminations operate through the creation and assumption of false, Otherizing dualisms that deny the existence of gradation, such as: Male/female, white/nonwhite, human/animal (as though a chimpanzee is more closely related to a catfish than a human), reason/emotion, nature/culture. Sexism and speciesism are both products of this separation between two groups where one is elevated by normalizing the devaluation and subjugation of the other. Identifying someone as being "different enough" is used as a justification for treating them without consideration for their needs.

  • When images of nonhuman animals -- who have long been perceived as being inferior -- are applied to female human animals ("bitch"/"chick"/"cow"), women are rendered as being as inferior to men as those other animals are already assumed to be. Since those nonhumans are already perceived as things to use, such identifications imply that men are entitled to exploit women.

  • Woman as a “bitch” carries a misogynist implication which becomes even more clear when taken into consideration the ways in which breeders treat female dogs: Female dogs are not only things to use to attain profit, but are treated with contempt, because they actively fight back against their oppressors, refusing to be passively raped. (Note that the word "bitch" is typically used on women in a position of power -- the term is meant to suggest that the woman does not know her "place" as a subordinate.) Using the demeaning term also implies that how we treat that animal (and so by extension, how that woman being called a "bitch" is treated as a consequence for that non-normative female dominance) is inherently her fault -- the word suggests that she is simply by nature supposed to be raped and used as a machine for profit. This is victim-blaming.

  • As activists, we may feel compelled to "do whatever we can" for the animals, but it is imperative that we think critically about how our actions and behaviors might just counter-productively reinforce an oppressive norm -- thereby perpetuating all oppression, including our main target of speciesism.

  • Sexualizing violence against females human animals in the aim of "selling" the idea that violence against nonhuman animals is wrong is problematic. As is calling a female human who is wearing fur a “hag” or “cunt” (reducing her to her female-specific part and associating that female form with contempt). Wishing violence on her for that action is just as misogynist and problematic, and note that men wearing leather receive no such hateful sentiment, much less the subjugating words or expressions of a desire for violence to put their body in its “place.”

  • When we talk about females (human or not) and when we interact with humans of any sex or gender identity (activist or not), we have a responsibility to be mindful of how our words and behavior may be reinforcing oppressive partiarchal and speciesist norms.

  • As an activist group, we need to be mindful of our behaviors and help each other create and maintain a safe space where activists don’t feel subjugated by an objectifying male-dominated gaze, and where activists are able to express emotional authenticity.

  • As liberationists we also have a responsibility to not frame the animals we speak of with a lens that reinforces their objectification -- we must be careful to not use words and images that brutally reduce those individual someones to objects.

Marla Rose on Community Building, Infighting, and Feminism

Marla Rose on Community Building, Infighting, and Feminism

Chicago VeganMania, one of the largest vegan events in the country, with thousands of attendees, is coming up in just a few days -- September 21. 

I was lucky enough to catch up with one of the founders and organizers of the event -- author, activist, and feminist agitator Marla Rose -- to discuss the process of organizing such a huge event, dealing with in-fighting, and the interplay between feminism and animal rights.