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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.

Low-Hanging Fruit: Political Appropriation of AR Sentiments

Low-Hanging Fruit: Political Appropriation of AR Sentiments

By Saryta Rodriguez


It's no secret that politicians– like magazine editors, TV producers and others whose careers hinge almost entirely on The Now– love to claim the "it" issue of the day as their own.  People caring about the environment?  I'll plant a tree on camera.  People worried about obesity? I'll run a 5K and give a brief interview afterwards, sweaty and winded.  That sort of thing.  We've all seen it, and it isn't new.

While in the past I have laughed at and mocked such desperate attempts to win public favor, I now find myself mired in a complex internal struggle as a result of them. Why? Because the issue of the day is human treatment of nonhuman animals.  Politicians are now taking seemingly positive steps to end certain forms of cruelty to animals; and as an animal-lover, an end to any form of animal cruelty is naturally a cause for celebration to me.  I struggle because while I appreciate these measures, I understand all too well that these politicos are simply grasping at low-hanging fruit.  They latch on to less pervasive forms of animal abuse and launch legislative attacks against them to avoid having to confront the Big Picture--having to develop and implement any significant structural changes to how our society eats, dresses, builds, learns, or is entertained.

Waiting for customers on Monday at Grand Army Plaza, near Central Park. A bill would ban horse-drawn carriages by mid-2016. Kirsten Luce for  The New York Times

Waiting for customers on Monday at Grand Army Plaza, near Central Park. A bill would ban horse-drawn carriages by mid-2016. Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

For instance, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio promised during his campaign to ban horse-drawn carriages from use in the city, and earlier this week the New York Times reported that he is making good on that promise. As a long-time New Yorker, I was delighted to hear this. Many of my visits to Central Park– particularly the area around Columbus Circle– have been marred by images of depressed-looking horses lined up in rows, often standing in their own feces; wearing blinders that rendered them unable to see fully in any direction; surrounded by noise, fast-moving vehicles and photo-flashing tourists.

As much as it relieves me to hear that soon, no horse will have to endure such suffering in New York City again, I cannot shake the mental image I have of Columbus Circle. This image includes not only rows of depressed horses (and people and food carts and traffic lights and statues...) but also features as a backdrop the Time Warner Center: home of both the meat- and dairy-serving restaurant Landmarc and humanewashing giant Whole Foods.  While the horses outside are being, to an extent, liberated, just behind them is a building in which other sentient beings are being dishonored, their corpses sold and served.  Does de Blasio intend to do anything about that? I doubt it.

Pigs shown in the gestation building at Grandview Farms in Eldridge, Iowa, on August 9, 2012. Stephen Mally for  The New York Times

Pigs shown in the gestation building at Grandview Farms in Eldridge, Iowa, on August 9, 2012. Stephen Mally for The New York Times

Also in the news this week was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's veto of a bill to ban the use of gestation crates in his state. In this case, the politico in question is actually voting against animals for the sake of his numbers.  The reporting itself, independent of the governor's decision, perpetuates the Humane Myth in that by focusing on gestation crates– crates in which pregnant pigs are kept in isolation– it reinforces the presumption that non-pregnant pigs must live in superior conditions. The sad reality is that the vast majority of pigs raised for slaughter experience isolation, overcrowding to the point of immobility, or some combination of the two.

The article about Christie linked above admits, "Passage of the bill would actually have little impact." Unfortunately, the reasons cited are trite (one reason being that there simply aren't that many pigs in New Jersey in the first place). The bill would have little impact anywhere; ultimately, whether they are pregnant or not, farmed pigs are murdered. Male pigs, who have never had to face the gestation crate, are habitually subjected to castration– as piglets, and without the use of anaesthesia or painkillers.

While I am grateful for any measure that is taken to protect animals, I often worry that this focus on low-hanging fruit will only delay that which is truly necessary: a complete overhaul of our speciesist industrial complexes.

DxE Bay Area organizer Brian Burns says of such single-issue campaigns:

Personally, I think that animal liberation will not come about instantaneously in the legal sphere, and incremental progress is necessary. 

The real question is whether or not the AR movement's messaging for that short-term progress interferes with our long-term goal. These single-issue campaigns can be done in a way that not just doesn't interfere with general animal liberation, but actually opens people's eyes to the broader issue. 

I think a great example of reform that does not hinder us in our long journey is the chimp personhood case going on right now in New York with the Nonhuman Rights Project. It has a clear and very tangible goal, but is challenging fundamental notions of what it means to be a person in our society, and is setting serious precedent for other animals...

While the best campaigns for incremental reform challenge fundamental notions in our collective consciousness, it also goes the other way. The minds of lawyers, judges, and juries are all influenced by the cultural soup in which they exist. Consequently, the kind of work DxE is doing which very much focuses on cultural norms rather than legal ones is vital to making incremental reforms possible.

I'm inclined to agree with him.  These single-issue campaigns are useful in that they spark dialogue regarding the lives of animals; what remains, then, is to sustain said dialogue even after the minor victory at hand has been won. Banning horse-drawn carriages cannot be the end of AR talk in Columbus Circle; the matter of gestation crates cannot serve as the apex of discussion of the plight of pigs.  We must continually draw connections between these issues, reinforcing similarities across victims and circumstances alike.  Setting a higher cultural standard will inevitably induce more and more single issues to come to the fore, reigniting the flames of social progress over and over again.

The [Commercial & Ethical] Impossibility of “Humane” Eggs

Little Red was rescued from a "pasture" egg farm -- the very best of the less than 1% best -- before she was going to be killed for being "spent" at two years old, as all hens exploited for their eggs are fated to be. (Oh, and like many ex-"pasture" girls, she had a band embedded in her leg because she outgrew it and her exploiter obviously did not care. She is permanently mutilated, and will forever walk with a limp because of it.)

Little Red was rescued from a "pasture" egg farm -- the very best of the less than 1% best -- before she was going to be killed for being "spent" at two years old, as all hens exploited for their eggs are fated to be. (Oh, and like many ex-"pasture" girls, she had a band embedded in her leg because she outgrew it and her exploiter obviously did not care. She is permanently mutilated, and will forever walk with a limp because of it.)

The [Commercial & Ethical] Impossibility of “Humane” Eggs

By Kelly Atlas

(This post is intended to illustrate the commercial problems that make mass-producing eggs at lauded "humane" standards impracticable, and to further identify how a genuinely "humane" standard is never met and argue that the very idea of "humane" exploitation is impossible -- in terms of both intents and impacts -- while providing contextual information about what is involved in the exploiting of chickens for their eggs, as well as explaining the important ethical and tactical reasons to recognize all eggs as a product of human chauvinism and violence.)

Currently, outside of my involvement with DxE, I work at an adoption center (Animal Place’s Rescue Ranch) for nonhuman refugees who were exploited for “food” purposes. We recently rescued two thousand “spent” chickens from battery cages, before they were gassed. So let me tell you what it would take to sell eggs from chickens who get a sanctuary standard of living.

Let’s say we have 1,500 hens, in absolutely minimal sanctuary conditions (a reasonable minimum standard for what is arguably “humane” I hope we can agree), who are each laying at the 300-eggs/year upper end of the maximum amount of “egg production” that hens are forced (through their breeding) to perform in their first year after they start laying.

Every day, that’s *very conservatively* $150 for food and water, $15 straw and nesting materials for barns that they need to be in at night to protect them from nonhuman predators, and at least 15 hours of human labour per day just for cleaning (which is $109 at USA Federal Minimum Wage).

Just to split even with those costs, the eggs would have to be sold wholesale at a cost of 22-cents each, or $2.67/dozen wholesale. (The “large” white eggs of leghorns exploited in battery cages are currently $1.67/dozen wholesale in California where costs are highest in the US.)

At *minimum* sanctuary standards, this is already 160% the current cost of mass-produced eggs, and that’s not including what the grocery store adds on, and that’s not including extra cleaning hours needed, or above-minimum-wage earnings, or the costs of more food or higher-quality food (or calcium supplementation, which is definitely needed as the birds age past a year or two) if needed, and it certainly does not include profits and CEO-stuffer, or even utilities costs, or medical costs, or building and fencing and maintenance costs, or maintenance labour hours, or cleaning supplies costs, or transportation and shipping costs, or packaging costs, or admin costs, or advertising costs, or the costs of running a similar-standards farm for the parent birds and the layer chicks before they start laying or otherwise the cost of buying the hens to support the forested/pastured-breeding farms where the hens (let’s just call them slaves, since that is what it is to purchase someone else as property) were purchased, or the costs of raising the males (who can’t lay eggs!) if we don’t throw them in a trash bag (who am I kidding, the grinder is more popular) as infants, or the costs of whatever happens to the bodies of the birds who have passed on… and even those are just the ‘other’ costs that I can think of straight off the top of my head right now.

Then you’re definitely past the $3.00/dozen at which humanewashing exploiter Joel Salatin’s  “pastured” (PS, wild junglefowl don’t live in open pastures — not ethically relevant, but let’s understand who we’re exploiting a little better here) eggs sell.

This is NOT FEASIBLE for businesses that market to anyone but the wealthiest couple percent of the population (though a few backyard businesses that already have the land can do nearly-this at $5/dozen exploiting 50 hens/year, though they support hatcheries, profit from the hens’ constant suffering, do not give their inmates the medical care that sanctuaries commit to, kill said slaves, and promote speciesism and violence). It is absolutely impossible for the scale and pricing of the vast majority of eggs we consume currently from hens exploited in cramped battery cages and confined “free range" sheds.

This is all with all the chicken-enslavement (and corn-production) subsidies staying the same (which means staying what, tens of times higher than subsidies for fruit). Without the nonhuman exploiters buying off our corrupt government, eggs would cost even more — much more!

We’re not done yet, though. Now, let's go past what the very best of the "pasture" camps do, and, like a sanctuary, say we don’t murder anyone, but let them live out whatever lives their breeding allows them to. This means an average of far fewer eggs, as the rate at which they are able to form them continues to decline until their bred-broken bodies fail them (just over half as many by the time they’re three, and most will die around or before four due to reproductive problems so humanely bestowed on them through their breeding). Now you’re looking at around double the price of what you got after all of those extra items that came after the originally calculated 60% less-than-the-bare-minimum-costs markup.

If we make all of that other sanctuary-esque stuff happen, and it’s cheaper to kill them, why should we refuse to, if the lives they've lived have been net-positive? [Insert facepalm.] For the same ethical reasons that we should not bring human children into the world to be killed for their flesh after living to puberty in a net-positive life. (Reasons that apply whether you care more about the intention of your actions or their effects.)

It’s pretty straightforward: Their future life is worth more to them than their exploited bodies are to humans (who only seek to eat them because of habits — and moreover, hateful ideologies — that they’ve been taught). That's the case even if we kill someone in a 100% painless murder (which is, again, not commercially possible -- if possible at all, which I highly doubt, or rather, which I doubt with complete certainty given the lack of possibility to guarantee it is carried out perfectly, in which case the risk of any physical and emotional pain upon being murdered outweighs the negligible, entirely replaceable "pleasure" a human derives from eating their eggs).

Oh, and let’s not forget about the very significant speciesism- and violence-perpetuating social costs of saying it’s totally okay (and worse, morally superior and wonderful) to kill someone when their usefulness to us has run out, so long as they are so unfortunate as to not be a human.

To hammer it in past all the humanewashing propaganda we see every day: Where “humane” means anything like “compassion” it is utterly impossible to “humanely” use someone, for our own selfish purposes, at a cost to them (and others like them) that outweighs the perceived, easily substituted (by new social norms and palate pleasures — and with no transition cost at all for humans who never eat an egg) 'gain' to ourselves.


Don’t let me neglect to emphasize the ethical consideration of the serious physical (and thereby, in addition, emotional) burden that these people carry on account of being bred to lay so many (and such massive) eggs. They get prolapses and they struggle to lay and they have to eat and rest a lot, and, importantly, the vast majority of them will die young because of the shackles written into their genes. Frankly, I consider that not only painful and exhausting exploitation, but, importantly, murder.

For those who, after all of that, have resolved to endorse the selling of eggs from rescued chickens kept in backyards, forget it, because the social costs of degrading those animals to egg-making machines for us to use puts other chickens at risk of what you do not consider “humane."

There is no non-speciesist way to “farm” people who aren't human. “Humane” exploitation is ALWAYS a lie.

Until every animal is free,

Kelly, who aims to speak on behalf of Dualla & Snow, the two liberated hens in her family.

Bridges and Walls

Bob Linden, once one of DxE's most vocal supporters, has now become its fiercest critic. What can this teach us about building bridges and walls? 

Bob Linden, once one of DxE's most vocal supporters, has now become its fiercest critic. What can this teach us about building bridges and walls? 

Bridges and Walls

by Wayne Hsiung

One of the first times I spoke with Bob Linden, we were driving to a circus protest organized by Pat Cuviello’s group, Humanity through Education. We had just finished up our biggest mobilization to date, the Earthlings March, in which 41 cities, 17 countries, and thousands of activists participated. And we were on a high about the possibilities for bridge building in animal rights activism.

As we drove to the circus protest, with my friend Kara from LA in tow, I spoke to Kara and Bob about DxE’s role in the movement -- to build a unified network on behalf of a strong and uncompromising message; to tap into the latent potential of animal lovers everywhere to create a powerful movement for change; to adapt best practices and insights from some of the greatest scholars and activists in history to strike at the foundations of animal exploitation; and perhaps most important, to empower animal rights activists, especially from underrepresented or unexpected communities, to speak confidently for what they truly believe: the right of every animal to be safe and happy and free.

Thousands of activists across the world took to the streets as part of DxE's Earthlings March in August 2013. 

One of the things that struck me most about this conversation was that the three of us, though from completely different backgrounds, cultures, and areas of the world, all felt so strongly about these basic ideas. Kara was a younger activist from the Los Angeles scene, where there were a number of promising pressure campaigns thriving in the face of legal repression. Bob was an older activist based in the Bay Area, whose unrelenting focus on vegan education has served as a moral compass for our movement. I, in turn, was a long-time Chicago activist from an immigrant family who had been a part of virtually every animal rights campaign available for over a decade, from vegan outreach to SHAC, before settling on DxE’s current path: creating empowered networks for change. The bridges that were built on that day, across the world, and within a single car, were inspiring and powerful. And I had high hopes that they would sustain themselves over the long run.

But bridges are hard to maintain, and they sometimes fail. Even worse, the collapse of a bridge often leaves such a mess of debris that what was once a bridge is now replaced by something more intimidating than empty space: a wall. And while bridges allow us to connect, to unify, to strengthen ourselves and our entire movement through solidarity, walls do the exact opposite. They block us from, not only working together, but from even accurately perceiving what is happening on the other side.

I think that is sadly what has happened between myself and Bob, with his recent criticisms of DxE (and the similar criticisms raised of DxE by Gary Francione). A bridge has collapsed and turned into a wall. I like and respect Bob. He is brave and passionate, and he dedicates virtually every moment of his life to working for animals. We have had countless conversations about the problems the animal rights movement faces -- the constant pull of the “mainstream” to suppress not just our sadness and outrage over atrocities, but even the content of our beliefs; the intoxicating allure of money and power in subtly reshaping the activism of even the most principled individual activists; the cynicism and hopelessness that leaves activists uninspired and burned out. I still agree 100% with all of these criticisms. I still agree nearly 100% with Bob. Where I disagree is in how to change that.

California's Prop 2 in action. According to the New York Times, the hens are "living the good life."

Bob believes that working with industry is undermining our movement. Bob is right about this, not just on moral grounds, but because the history of welfare reforms is a terrible one, and because there’s no clear evidence that welfare reforms have, well, actually reformed welfare. The colony cages that are set to be introduced in California, to replace the battery cages that were used before, are one such example. Cages of wire have been replaced by cages of flesh.

But there is a much broader literature in moral and social psychology on the issue of “moral credentialing” -- how institutions such as Chipotle (and others before it, such as Enron or BP), which offer up meaningless badges of their so-called integrity, use their new-found moral credentials to engage in even more brutal acts of violence. I have seen these with my own eyes in working on rescues from genuinely pasture-raised farms. New forms of brutality and violence pop up to replace the old, as industry adapts to reform to ensure their astonishingly low costs are maintained. And even where reforms are not evaded or undermined, animals still live such atrociously horrible lives that it’s not clear if there are any genuine benefits. (A similar point is made in the research on human poverty alleviation. If a poor child is oppressed ultimately by institutional causes -- discrimination, inequality, and corruption -- then addressing one minor symptom, such as lack of malaria nets, might not do much to solve the problem.)

Bob also believes, however, that animal advocates who take the “welfarist” path, despite the moral and factual reasons to think it is a wrong turn, are traitors to the cause, and as bad as animal abusers themselves. And I understand this position. William Lloyd Garrison, after all, set out to undermine the mainstream “antislavery” group of his day, the ACS, because of its false compromise with slaveholders. Emmeline Pankhurst unrelentingly attacked not just the institutions of power that denied women the right to vote -- but also those women who rejected her militant tactics to force the issue with the public at large. And even Martin Luther King, Jr. decried “moderates” (who rejected the disruption of mass nonviolent direct action because it made civil rights activists seem extreme and crazy) as the great stumbling block in the nation’s stride toward freedom. There is, in short, room for harsh criticism … and, indeed, we should encourage such criticism because, as with every social justice movement before us, the debate will illuminate the path to liberation.

But that is the key -- winning the moderates over through debate, rather than destroying them. William Lloyd Garrison’s Antislavery Society was filled by one-time supporters of the ACS. Emmeline Pankhurt believed that her dream of a world where even women were free to vote was so powerful and compelling that even conservatives would eventually understand the need for direct action. And Martin Luther King, Jr., even as he angrily criticized moderates, was always animated by love and hope, rather than hostility and hate. He was humble enough to entertain criticism, and optimistic enough to believe that even the staunchest conservatives could be changed.

The danger of corporate capture of our movement is a real one, as demonstrated by this hen's bloody, deformed leg. 

And in this hope, he was correct. The infamous racist and segregationist George Wallace, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement’s tumult in 1963, hatefully ranted, “Segregation now. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever.” And yet, within a few years, after it became clear that the cultural waves had turned against him, Wallace went on a speaking tour throughout the state of Alabama… but this time to beg forgiveness of the black families that he had so violently antagonized as a candidate for President. Wallace's story should give us hope.

And this hope, more than anything else, is perhaps where Bob and I truly disagree. Bob believes that groups such as MFA, HSUS, and Farm Sanctuary have shown us their true colors… that they are unrepentant animal killers who serve only their self-interest and bottom line. Whether accurate or not, this is a cynical view that, if not complemented by an attempt to build bridges, will only serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the moderates and conservatives in animal advocacy see our grassroots movement for animal liberation as motivated by cynicism, they will have no reason to heed our calls for change. If, in contrast, they see in our criticisms a genuine and heartfelt and even desperate call to rethink our most basic strategic and moral assumptions (and an equally genuine interest in listening to criticism ourselves), then we can begin to build bridges rather than walls.

To be sure, fierce voices such as Bob’s help drive all of us to greater understanding. They push us to have dialogue -- whether within the community of radicals or between radicals and moderates. They help us identify that a gap exists, that a problem is unacknowledged, that a bridge must be built. But the fiercest critics, to be effective, must be complemented by activists just as fiercely committed to generosity, humility, and hope.

It has been said that Martin Luther King, Jr. believed that twenty percent of his work was activism. Eighty percent was dealing with internal divisions within the movement. While this is the reality of dealing with passionate people in a desperate cause, those divisions can only be healed and addressed if we talk. I hope that Bruce Friedrich and I continue to talk, despite our disagreements. I hope that Bob and I continue to talk, despite his feelings of betrayal.

But above all, I hope that all of us (including Bob) continue to speak strongly and confidently for animals, even where our voices may be unwelcome… to build bridges with even animal eaters within our communities, not to compromise our vision of a better world, but to spread our vision of a better world, with strong and committed allies, to every corner of this planet.  

Because without such bridges, those who oppose us, whether in the halls of power or in a Chipotle down the street, will never find the path to the other side... the path to liberation.


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.


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."

Chipotle: We communicate with pigs via telepathy!


Chipotle: We communicate with pigs via telepathy!

by Wayne Hsiung

There were a lot of inspiring, powerful, and poignant moments at AR2014. But perhaps the most bizarre -- and the instance that most aptly illustrated the near absurd deceptions put out by Chipotle -- involved an initially hostile customer who transformed, for one afternoon, into an animal rights investigator! 

The man in question was struck by the evocative display of human beings wrapped in foil, with a looming butcher standing over them, and stopped to gawk. After he began to jeer -- "Go Chipotle! I love meat! -- I stopped to talk to him. 

"What are your thoughts on the protest, sir?" I asked. 

"Well, it's a protest against meat, right?" he replied. 

This Chipotle customer and heckler transformed into an animal rights supporter -- and fact-checker -- in a span of 5 minutes due to our protest. 

This Chipotle customer and heckler transformed into an animal rights supporter -- and fact-checker -- in a span of 5 minutes due to our protest. 

"It's a protest against violence."

The man stopped smiling and looked at me quizzically. I went on to ask the man about his interactions with animals. He told me that he had a dog that he loved. I asked him how he would feel if someone hurt his dog. He responded that he wouldn't let it happen. 

"We're doing the same thing -- we don't want to let these terrible things happen to gentle animals -- and we're asking for your support." 

We continued talking for a few minutes, and by the end of the conversation, I had him sold.

"I haven't gotten to that enlightened point that you have already, but I hope to achieve that one day," he explained. 

"It's not about enlightenment. It's about showing that you don't support these violent corporations and traditions." 

He told me he'd go into the store and ask about the animals. And he did. 

What he brought out caused my jaw to drop to the floor. He came back out, almost frantically, laughing and waving a card in the air. 

"You've gotta see this. They say they're telepathic!" he said. 

For a moment, I thought the man was mocking us again, or had gone insane. But when I looked at the card, I saw what he was laughing and waving about. Chipotle, in response to his concerned question, had handed the man a free burrito coupon. On the back, the card described the wonderful conditions its animals are raised in -- standard fare. But that was not all. The card also claimed that the company was able to communicate telepathically with pigs, a breakthrough in trans-species communication that would probably win the company a Nobel Prize! 

The bizarre Chipotle card. 

What did the pigs have to say, in the moments before they were butchered and torn to pieces to serve the company's rapidly-growing empire of violence? Not that they were scared. Not that they were in terrible pain. Not even that they would really really rather not die. No, no, what the company wants you to believe is that, in their moment of telepathic connection with pigs, the pigs told them they were happy to be raised so humanely. 

You know a company has gone off the rails when it starts talking about telepathy with its victims. But I suppose when your entire business model is founded on a fraud, there's not much else you can do.

A house of cards is bound to collapse, though. And as my new friend told me as he walked away, shaking his head. "This company is completely ridiculous. And somebody has to point that out." 

We will, sir. We will. 

Chipotle's Spokespeople Demonstrate that the Company Does Not Care About Animals Even a Little

Chipotle's Spokespeople Demonstrate that the Company Does Not Care About Animals Even a Little (by Kelly)

At Chipotle's last two "Cultivate" festivals in San Francisco, their keynote speakers have been extremely dismissive of our criticism of the company's humanewashing, in an effort to downplay the violence they profit on.

After our disruption of a cooking demonstration at the festival last year, Culinary Manager Nate Appleman said, “We’re mixing the chicken and the pork… I love all animals the same, so I want to use both of them!” Appleman has also made it clear that “humane” rhetoric is just about selling the product, saying, “You put tripe in a bowl and tell them it’s from a humanely raised cow, and they’re going to eat it.”

And at the Cultivate festival we disrupted just a few weeks ago, Chef Graham Elliot played “Meat is Murder” as he walked on stage (before we even made our presence known), and when we demonstrated, he joked about foie gras, in an effort to mock the animals and dismiss their oppression. And you can see in the image above that he's behind Brian, pretending to be like a campy killer from a horror movie, making a joke not only of our comparison between violence against nonhumans and humans alike, of all violence.

They source from animals exploited in the same awful conditions as every other fast-food chain, and they get more sales and substantial premiums from their "humane" rhetoric. Their CEO has literally promised that Chipotle will never exploit animals, when the vast majority of the company's money is made from products that include using animals without their consent (and in crying protest of that violent use). If that doesn't already define "humanewashing" for us, the way their spokespeople are so incredibly dismissive of concern for violence against animals should make it abundantly clear that the company's claims of caring about animals are utterly superficial.

Chipotle is not animal-friendly. Chipotle a leader in the oppression of our nonhuman kin. We have to make it clear to the world that discriminating against, using, and killing other animals is not a positive thing to feel good about.

Chipotle is Watching You

Chipotle is Watching You (by Kelly)


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. 

Empty the Tanks - How Corporate Spin Reframes Captivity

Dispelling SeaWorld's corporate spin with events such as Empty the Tanks is key to the push for genuine change. 

Dispelling SeaWorld's corporate spin with events such as Empty the Tanks is key to the push for genuine change. 

Empty the Tanks - How Corporate Spin Reframes Captivity

by Wayne Hsiung

SeaWorld and other marine animal prisons enslave and abuse animals. It is a truth that was aptly demonstrated by the movie Blackfish, and that activists will unite to say on May 24, at the Empty the Tanks Worldwide day of action. In the Bay Area, the tireless defender of marine animals and Taiji Cove Guardian, Lisa Robles, is taking the lead in taking on Six Flags (with support from the newly formed Citizens for an Animal-Free Six Flags). In San Diego, the remarkable activist and DxE organizer Ellen Ericksen is expecting 1000 to protest SeaWorld. And hundreds more activists all over the world will be converging at marine animal prisons behind a simple message: animals are not ours to use.

But if you listen to the industry, they are doing great things for animals. SeaWorld, for example, glows about how it is "leading the way" in animal rescue and rehab and shares inspiring stores of saving baby dolphins from drowning in the tangle of a fishing net. They even went so far as to hire Bindi Irwin, daughter of the famous conservationist, as their Youth Ambassador. 

What is an animal activist to do? 

The first thing to note is that SeaWorld's motivations -- indeed, its legal obligation -- is to make profit for its shareholders. Whatever actions it takes are for that purpose, and, since the company has a fundamental financial interest in marine animal captivity, whatever "rescue and release" programs it involves itself in must, as a matter of legal requirement, serve their abusive reason for existence: profiting off of animals in captivity. 

The second is that SeaWorld's response is identical to virtually every other corporation challenged for animal abuse. "But we take care of animals!" Animal welfare is, in fact, a centuries-long tradition, and deft corporations always try to reframe criticism of their industry into praise for animal welfare. But the animal welfare dialogue, even if a sign of progress, is not enough. As we have seen in our own campaign against humane meat (where sales have often doubled after corporations begin to use humane marketing), the rhetoric of welfare is often used, not to encourage genuine and long-term improvements even in animal welfare (much less liberation), but to encourage greater public and consumer support for the practice at issue. We cannot allow ourselves to be duped by this marketing spin. 

The third is that if we don't provide a compelling response, SeaWorld's corporate spin will succeed. The history of animal industry is replete with examples of industry deftly diverting public outrage into meaningless reforms. Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1958 that, if you went by mail alone, you'd think the entire country were only concerned about humane slaughter. But in the decades since, animal killing has not only increased, but the horrific cruelty of slaughter has continued unabated. The reason? Inertia. The status quo has a natural gravitational force that makes incremental progress hard to sustain. 

So while the protest on May 24 is an inspiring and powerful event -- one that we should do everything we can to support -- let's not forget that the story doesn't end with one day of action. If we want every tank to be empty, and every animal to be free, we have to recognize corporate spin, devise a compelling response, and continue our challenge to even the existence of these abusive industries. 

There is no such thing as a "good" way to hold animals captive. And if we can maintain the integrity of that message, we will see our vision become a reality.