The starting point. Le point de départ.

Veganism is the moral baseline, the starting point, of the abolitionist animal rights movement. The main purpose of this blog is to explore animal issues from the perspective of the emerging abolitionist movement.


Memed - 8 true things

I've been tagged by Kenneth of Animal Rights Malta to create a post on eight true things about myself. I'm not going to follow the 'rules' of the game and post the rules or tag other people afterwards, but here goes anyway, eight true things about me:

1. Lately, some changes in my life have taken priority over blogging (if you hadn't already guessed by the infrequent updates).

2. I've rescued seven cats in the past few years; six off the streets of Montreal and one last-chance rescue who was going to be killed by the SPCA. I currently live with three of them: Azrael, Thor, and Jasmine. Azrael and Thor are shown in the photo. I had several other feline friends and acquaintances in my neighbourhood in Montreal who were not so lucky as the seven rescuees, which influenced my views as they became increasingly against the domestication of non-human animals. I love my feline family and friends very much and feel lucky to have them in my life, but I realize that the horrible suffering I've witnessed (only the tip of the iceberg as far as the situation of abandoned and homeless animals goes) is the inevitable result of humans' dominating and exploiting other living beings as property, even for what seems on the surface to be the benevolent, or at least benign, sake of having a companion to love and care for. Purposefully creating the situation of a relationship of life-long dependence, as the institutionalized concept of "pet ownership" imposes on every "pet" no matter how well cared for, is inherently exploitative.

3. I'm a runner. I completed my last marathon at the end of May in 3 hours, 35 minutes.

4. I've been vegan since 2004.

5. I now regret my involvement (it goes without saying, given the nature of this blog!), but in the past before my abolitionist views developed, I organized the Montreal Walk for Farm Animals for Farm Sanctuary. I doubt that my experience as a new vegan in being swayed by the large new welfarist groups is uncommon - the dominance of new welfarism in the current animal protection movement unfortunately leads people who become concerned about animal suffering to believe that if they want to get involved in activism to help non-humans, the only way to do so is to support new welfarist campaigns and large new welfarist organizations. This type of activism seems like "what everybody does" and is presented by the large groups (who are of course vying for donations and members, trying to appeal to anyone and everyone who has any inkling of concern for animal suffering) as the only way to do things in order to effect change.

A recent NY Times article featuring Farm Sanctuary and other new welfarist groups highlights many problematic aspects of new welfarism:

"Among animal rights groups, the 1980s were considered the decade of grass-roots activism. The 1990s saw the rise of court actions and ballot initiatives. This decade is about building budgets, influencing policy and cultivating elected officials, all with a deliberate focus on livestock."

What these trends really indicate is the watering down of the meaning of "animal rights", and the problems with the corporate organizational model and these organizations' striving to get "in" with the industry and lawmakers.

"Farm Sanctuary and other groups still know how to make the most of gory slaughterhouse footage from hidden cameras. The animals they call “rescued” — some abandoned, some saved from natural disasters, some left for dead at slaughterhouses — clearly started life as someone else’s property."

It's nice that the idea of animals as property is even mentioned here, but the problem with this statement is that it ignores the fact that it's the property status of animals that is at the core of the problem of animal suffering and that the new welfarist tactics of these groups do absolutely nothing to counter the property status.

"While some groups, like the Animal Welfare Institute, work with ranchers to codify the best methods of raising animals for meat and eggs, most, like Farm Sanctuary and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, ultimately want people to stop using even wool and honey because they believe the products exploit living creatures. But all of these believers have learned that with less stridency comes more respect and influence in food politics. So they no longer concentrate their energy on burning effigies of Colonel Sanders and stealing chickens. They don’t demonize meat — with the exception of foie gras and veal — or the people who produce it. Instead, they use softer rhetoric, focusing on a campaign even committed carnivores can get behind: better conditions for farm animals.
In some ways, it’s simply a matter of style."

Well, it may be somewhat true that the difference between new welfarist shock-tactic campaigns against the poor treatment of animals by particular companies like KFC and "respectable" welfarist campaigns that "don't demonize meat" could be considered a matter of style, it is definitely not merely style that differentiates any of these welfarist/new welfarist tactics and the stated "ultimate" goal of the new welfarist groups to eliminate the exploitation of animals. The tactics contradict the goals; it's a fundamental and irreconcilable difference.

"“Instead of telling it like it is, we’re learning to present things in a more moderate way,” [FS co-founder] Mr. Baur said. “When it comes to this vegan ideal, that’s an aspiration. Would I love everyone to be vegan? Yes. But we want to be respectful and not judgmental.”"

Sorry Mr. Baur, if you've decided that being vegan is what you need to do to live according to your ethics, you've already made your judgement. Is that a bad thing? And what exactly is respectful about basically misleading people by not saying what you really mean, by not asking for what you really believe to be right, by treating people like they cannot handle the truth about their food or like they would be incapable of making the same decision that you have made once they learn of this truth? There are more than just the two options of using PETA-style, offensive stunts that turn people away versus promoting "happy meat"-type reforms so as not to risk pushing anyone outside of their comfort zone. It is possible to present things respectfully without compromising your ethics.

"They have also learned to harness the power of celebrity in a tabloid culture, courting as spokespeople anyone famous who might have recently put down steak tartare in favor of vegetable carpaccio.

“I think there is a shift in public consciousness,” said Bruce Friedrich, vice president of international grass-roots campaigns for PETA. “When Cameron Diaz learns that pigs are smarter than 3-year-olds and she’s like, ‘Oh my God, I’m eating my niece,’ that has an impact.”"

Yes, organizations trying to use non-vegan spokespeople and speciesist reasoning to further the cause of animal rights has an impact - in strengthening the misrepresentations in the mind of the public of the meaning of animal rights and what is consistent with animal rights. A true shift in public consciousness, towards viewing non-humans as beings deserving of basic rights simply because they are sentient, rather than as resources that it's acceptable to exploit, is nowhere in sight and is actually pushed further into the realm of impossibility by welfarist and new welfarist tactics.

"Like PETA, the Humane Society has purchased enough stock in corporations like Tyson, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and Smithfield’s to have the legal clout to introduce resolutions."

That's right, PETA and the HSUS invest in animal exploiting companies. Talk about being your own worst enemy...

"Like Mr. Baur, [HSUS president] Mr. Pacelle understands that not everyone is going to stop eating animals, so he focuses on what he calls the three R’s: refinement of farming techniques, reducing meat consumption and replacement of animal products. That way, he hopes, the Humane Society tent is big enough to include both ardent meat eaters and hard-core vegans."

...big enough to include anyone but those who understand that working within the welfare reform system means necessarily accepting the property status of animals as a given, and cannot secure non-humans any basic rights or even any level of protection that isn't in the economic favour of the property owners.

"The broader-umbrella approach is working."

Working to what end? Read on:

"Take the case of Wolfgang Puck. In March, he announced that he would stop serving foie gras and buy eggs only from chickens not confined to small cages. Veal, pork and poultry suppliers will have to abide by stricter standards, too.
For five years before the announcement, Mr. Baur’s group had been pressuring Mr. Puck to change his meaty ways. Mr. Puck, in an interview in March, said that had nothing to do with his new policies. He simply came to the conclusion that better standards were the best thing for his customers, his food and the animals. But he did credit the Humane Society for his education.
Mr. Puck met Mr. Pacelle through Sharon Patrick, a branding consultant he had hired. Ms. Patrick, the former president of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, believed animal welfare could be an important component in her plan for Mr. Puck."

So, basically "happy meat" is a great marketing opportunity for animal exploiters. Groups promoting animal welfare reform lend even more legitimacy to the idea that is being capitalized on here, that using animals instrumentally is okay as long as the animals were treated well - if the animal "rights" groups are pushing for these types of reforms, then this must be what is good for animals, right?

"The flurry of corporate animal welfare policies that began in 1999 with McDonald’s are simply sound corporate strategy, company representatives say."

Do we really want to be helping animal exploiters build sound corporate strategies? As the following quotes suggest, the industry will reform itself anyway because of customers' wishes.

"“Ask them and [PETA] will tell you they are the sole responsible party for bringing all these changes, but I have yet to see one of their campaigns produce results where they affected the company in terms of customer traffic or profitability,” said Denny Lynch, a spokesman for Wendy’s."

"“If we think consumers are a little more engaged in this, then so are we,” said Steve Grover, [Wendy's] vice president for food safety, quality assurance and regulatory compliance. “I look at it like a hockey player. I want to be there before the puck gets there.”"

"Cattle ranchers say pressure from PETA and Farm Sanctuary are not the reason they have started handling animals with more care. As the owners of Niman Ranch and Coleman Natural discovered, people are willing to pay more for meat from animals that are better cared for and whose origins can be traced from birth through processing."

There is no good reason for those of us who disagree in principle with exploitation to get involved with reforms of the very system of institutionalized animal exploitation we should be unequivocally rejecting. We should be focusing on clear, consistent public education about the property status of animals and its role as the cause of most non-human suffering, and veganism as the only solution. Welfarism is certainly no solution; even animal exploiters agree with animal welfare principles:

"“The groups that don’t want us to eat any animals at all are so radical and off-the-wall that we don’t even worry about them,” said Scott Sell, the owner of Quail Ridge Ag and Livestock Services, a Georgia cattle company. “In our industry we are the original animal welfarists. We take care of the animals because they take care of us.”"

Typical of how exploiters want people to believe that they have some kind of mutually beneficial relationship with their non-human slaves. When we recognize that sentient beings should have the right not to be treated as commodities, not to be the property of humans, the absurdity of such notions is clear.

"But Temple Grandin, the animal science expert from Colorado State University who first led McDonald’s executives on a tour of their suppliers’ slaughterhouses, believes that activists had plenty of impact on changes in how farm animals are cared for.
“Activist pressure starts it because heat softens steel,” she said. But she also offered some friendly advice. “What the activists’ groups have to be careful about is that you want to soften the steel and not vaporize it.”"

This is not surprising advice from someone who profits from animal exploitation.

"[...] [Chef] Mr. Trotter said animal welfare has become more important because American gastronomic consumers increasingly want to do right by the animals they eat.
“You don’t just have to be a card-carrying PETA member anymore to go that route,” he said in an e-mail message."

Here is exactly the kind of attitude that groups interested in animal rights should be actively trying to dispel, not reinforcing by participating in welfare reform campaigns. The idea that it is acceptable to use non-human animals as resources inevitably results in their suffering. Stating, or lending approval by association to the idea, that we can "do right" by animals while continuing to exploit them and kill them, only harms non-human animals.

"The chefs Mario Batali and Adam Perry Lang, along with the restaurateur Joe Bastianich, are creating a company called BBL Beef Brokers to produce humanely raised meat that is pampered from the farm to the slaughterhouse."

Pampered at the slaughterhouse... The human mind can rationalize anything, I suppose.

"“From the chef’s perspective it comes down to, ‘Yeah, the steak looks good but why is it not performing?’ ” Mr. Perry Lang said. “It’s because of how the animal was raised and handled. That’s not animal rights, but it is animal welfare.”"

At least Mr. Lang realizes that welfare reforms have nothing to do with animal rights and don't pose a threat to institutionalized animal exploitation.

"The gap between animal lovers and animal lovers who love to eat them is exactly what Mr. Baur, a man who eats noodles with margarine, soy sauce and brewer’s yeast and has only barely heard of Chez Panisse, would like to close."

Notice that vegans are being portrayed as deprived, culinarily-unsophisticated margarine-noodle eaters, maintaining the usual stereotypes of veganism as 'extreme' and 'difficult', and 'just not for everyone'.

"“We’re not really in philosophical alignment,” [Mr. Baur] said. “But I like to think we’re in strategic alliance.”"

A strategy that aligns those who want animal rights with those who have vested interests in exploiting animals, whether they profit from the exploitation financially or by means of their lifestyle habits, is not a sound strategy on the part of anyone who is against exploitation, to put it mildly.

Anyway, back to the eight true things!

6. I was a recipe tester for Dino Sarma's cookbook Alternative Vegan.

7. I have two M.Sc. degrees; one in pure math and one in statistics.

8. I'd like to learn Spanish. So far all I know are things like Como està? Muy bien, gracias. Oh, and here is the extent of my knowledge of Dutch: Heef de boer een leeuw in de tuin? Ja, de leeuw is vriendelijk! Also I took two years of Latin but now all I can say off the top of my head is: Mater tua caligas gerit. :P

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