Sunday, June 15, 2008

Yes, that.

Read this by brownfemipower (whose return to blogtopia is most excellent) about the rhetoric surrounding veganism as a so-called "cruelty-free" lifestyle.
Is a vegan lifestyle really a “cruelty free” lifestyle? Why is it so easy to prioritize cruelty inflicted on animals over cruelty inflicted on brown people? Why can people list a whole litany of wrongs committed against animals by the food industry–but at the same time those people “never really thought” about what happens to the workers?

Should I consider these things while contemplating veganism? Should I mourn them?

Can I bring myself to say with a straight face that I no longer eat meat because I care about ending violence against animals? Can I say to the workers, to myself, that even animals are more important to me than they are, than I am? Can I continue my own people’s erasure? Can I continue mine?

How do I make eating vegan/vegetarian a political choice about liberation without making the sacrifice one set of beings make with their bodies more important than another set of beings?
Yes, that.

I mean, there's no easy answers. There's no one product to boycott, or class of products to avoid that can save your soul and make you a perfect ethical consumer. Tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers are usually as tainted with suffering as meat. And meat is often as tainted with the suffering of humans as it is with animals.

And yet it's the suffering of animals that's so often given preference in these discussions.

I know I've said this before (in a slightly different context), but we in the West live off of the backs of most of the rest of the world. Pretty much everything you touch is laced with cruelty. Calling a vegan diet "Cruelty free" privileges the suffering of animals over the suffering of your fellow humans.


Phil BC said...

Quite correct and why, ultimately, consumer activism by itself is a road to nowhere but a series of intractable ethical knots.

Vanessa said...

Yes. I mean, I'm not (quite) saying it doesn't have it's place, but it will never solve the problems beyond allowing Westerners to feel smugly like they're not part of the problem anymore.

Certainly there's room for it, and reducing demand for a product I guess can effect a company's bottom line, just seems to me if (for example) animal rights activists (such as peta) were *actually* interested in reducing sufferring they would fight for more humane, regulated slaughterhouses (for the animals and the workers) rather than yelling at people for eating meat.

Daisy said...

Still, gotta say, the meat-packers have it BAD, they work in cold freezers, catch serious colds, bronchitis and pneumonia (they aren't used to that kind of artificial arctic air!), their skin cracks open, etc. The vast majority of the imported immigrants working for businesses like IBP --have absolutely NO workman's comp, sick leave, maternity leave, health insurance or disability payments. I say imported because they actually go down there on buses and pick them up in rural Mexico, use them up, spit them out and then just send them back. Many immigrants find other jobs and disappear into the American economy and these businesses don't bother to keep track of them. (And what do the anti-immigration people like Bill O'Reilly think of THAT? I've never heard him utter a peep about IBP and their ilk.) I think meat-packing industry jobs, as it stands, are currently much worse than the traditional migrant-worker jobs, even though people aren't likely to say so since they (appear to) make so much more money.

Meatpacking and the making of immigration policy

Speaking personally, I became vegetarian because of PEOPLE (workers rights, environment, meat-based food economy makes organics more expensive, etc)... as well as the usual animal-based reasons. For years, I sneered my pseudo-Trotskyist sneer at vegetarians, that they were not about THE STRUGGLE, and finally I met one who could make the case in that good old fashioned Marxist way that I understand. :)

The meat INDUSTRY is just plain fucked. The moral argument about killing animals tends to be a religious argument (IMHO) rather than just political. (At least, it is for me.)

Sorry to go on so long. Vanessa, your blog always brings it out of me!

Vanessa said...

Daisy, I always think of you as the vegetarian whose rhetoric sounds sensible!

I see it as a problem with the general focus on consumer-based activism in general, though. Or maybe, to be more vague about it, a problem with activist culture in general. It all seems to happen on the PR level (or the peer-pressure level) rather than a level on which more regulations cam change that would actually improve situations.

Not that that's not necessary to bring about the changes needed, it just it seems like it ends there. Like people are thinking to themselves "Well *I* don't buy bottled water/shop at Walmart/eat meat/whatever so as far as I'm concerned, the problem has disappeared." When it hasn't by a long shot.

I suppose I don't really have a good answer, though.