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Zine Week Day 4: New Thoughts On Animal Liberation

May 30, 2011

What, you thought Zine Week would adhere to linear time?

Just kidding; sorry for the lapse! Today’s zine, from a member of Austin-based group ¡ella pelea!, is especially exciting for its application of class consciousness theory from Advance the Struggle’s Oscar Grant pamphlet (featured on Zine Week Day 2) to the Animal Rights Movement (ARM) in the U.S.

in Buena Vista Park, SF


My friend Jamal once characterized liberal ARMers as (I’m paraphrasing) the kind of people who, in rushing to help a caged bird, will heedlessly trample starving orphans. This zine author beautifully engages that contradiction: how mainstream groups like PETA claim to promote liberation, yet use racist, sexist imagery, collaborate with the state, and generally ignore and compound human exploitation and oppression.

On the flip side, militant, insurrectionist groups like the Animal Liberation Front also seem to dismiss humans, skipping dialogue and consciousness-raising in favor of maintaining small fighting cells divorced from a broader strategy for overthrowing oppressive systems.

This little hand-laid-out booklet definitely wins for Prettiest Zine of the Week: I had to hold myself back from posting screen grabs of every page! Illustrations are at turns clever, cute, uplifting and fruitfully disturbing.

Download it, read it, and maybe email the author to work out how to send a couple dollars their way. :)

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Note: I’m noticing that all my images are showing up slightly blurry here on the blog. If you click on them, you can get a clearer look; I’ma try and find a way to fix this. Apologies!

12 Comments leave one →
  1. nathan permalink
    May 30, 2011 8:09 pm

    I have always struggled to know how to take folks that are hardcore into PETA, or other animal-centric groups because they tend to have such inflexible views of humans. And of animals as well. There seems to be failure to understand, for example, that animals aren’t all cute, non-violent, defenseless creatures. Even I, a vegetarian who is strongly sympathetic with the animal world, can’t hang with some of the narratives these folks have.

  2. nathan permalink
    May 30, 2011 8:10 pm

    Oh, by the way, I’m diggin’ the zines posts.

  3. May 30, 2011 10:36 pm

    Thanks nathan! That’s interesting — I’ve never really met too many PETA warriors, but I’ve had yucky experiences with folks who push veganism as a cover for eating disorders (you can kind of use the excuse of “not being able to eat anything”); and of course have seen the Buddhist version of vegetarian lifestyle politics. What you’re saying reminds me of parallels between the patronizing, exoticizing aspects of misogyny and similarly patronizing, exoticizing, limiting views of animals.

  4. nathan permalink
    May 31, 2011 8:21 am

    A couple of the PETA folks I met were militant vegans as well. I have been vegetarian for a decade and a half, but I’m not running around telling people what to eat. To me, that’s a line no one should cross.

    “Buddhist version of vegetarian lifestyle politics” – this is a tricky one. I have written a bit about it on my blog before. I think there’s a similar thread of snobbishness running through some circles, tied to an overdose of Michael Pollan articles and the posh air of Whole Foods.

  5. Seth Josephson permalink
    May 31, 2011 8:42 pm

    Personally, keeping vegan is an important part of my Buddhist practice, as is lovingly encouraging others to join me in this discipline (I was even passing out pro-vegan material today). I don’t support PETA, however, for the reasons above, and also think ALF actions are often counter-productive. I’d like to plug my favorite Animal Rights organization: Mercy for Animals

    I truly believe all these oppressions are linked. Let’s see what we can do to benefit all beings.

  6. May 31, 2011 10:52 pm

    Hey Seth! You and Sean were definitely on my mind when reading this zine and writing this post. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on it, if you get a chance to elaborate.

    Looking at my comments upthread I’m sorry that I sounded so negative about the vegan / vegetarian outreach people I’ve encountered. I’m actually more interested in drawing lessons from the examples I’ve seen (which are admittedly few — even though I’m vegetarian, I’m not active in ARM work) to think about how I approach the political work that I do, and where connections might emerge between animal liberation and the projects I’m already engaged in.

    As the zine mentions, I think one thing that’s been difficult for me to connect with, and I see some of it in a brief browsing of the Mercy for Animals (MFA) site, is the aggregate-individualism approach.

    The goal of MFA’s presentations is to provide accurate information so people can make informed choices about the foods they eat while inspiring people to make more humane, sustainable and healthy decisions. This is done in a respectful manner that helps stimulate thought, discussion and critical thinking around the issues presented.

    I know that these presentations aren’t the only thing that MFA does (it looks like they also do “undercover investigations, rescues [. . .] and grassroots activism,” among other things), and maybe they do actually go into the systemic connections of profit-making and exploitation in political economy (and also the racism and maltreatment against slaughterhouse workers) . . . but unless that stuff is foregrounded, I find it’s usually left out or only briefly mentioned.

    I feel conflicted even saying that, because it’s not like animals can only matter in terms of their relation to human suffering. I do think that animal suffering and well being are important issues in and of themselves. But even as someone who elects to be vegetarian, it’s hard for me to think of animal rights mostly in terms of individualistic “choices,” rather than complex systems of driving down costs of production, maximizing profit, and thereby minimizing the importance of human, animal, and environmental wellness. So it becomes less of an issue of making individual choices (although I agree that people should reflect seriously on how their everyday behavior reflects their moral beliefs) and more a question of working together to develop a plan for overthrowing this system that consistently exploits the majority of beings in order to feed the greed of a minority.

    What do you think? What have been some of your most encouraging community-oriented consciousness raising experiences around ARM work?

    Appreciating you so much! :)

  7. May 31, 2011 10:54 pm

    Sorry, I kind of went off the deep end with that comment: let me try to ask a more specific question. Since we agree that all oppressions are linked, what kind of ARM work do you think is most useful for attacking these interlinking oppressions? Where does the collectivizing, community-oriented dimension of this work live? I think it could be really exciting stuff.

  8. nathan permalink
    June 1, 2011 10:23 am

    Seth,

    Like Katie, I’m also vegetarian, and in some respects, that is coming from my Buddhist practice. It also comes from the deep awareness of the corporate system of animal exploitation that all three of us, I’m guessing, are interested in seeing dismantled.

    However, what I have never been able to get around, when it comes to diet, is that it really isn’t a one size fits all approach. My early days of vegetarianism were filled with righteous comments directed at meat eaters, failing to have any understanding of their unique bodily circumstances. For example, I had a friend who had several allergies and disorders that led his doctors to tell him “You need to eat a meat based diet.” Now, I have no doubt that there might be ways to poke holes through the particular doctor’s narrative, and also to promote more independence amongst patients in general – but the fact of the matter was that this guy was following the advice he was given, and had better health than in the past as a result of it.

    So, there’s a personal rub whenever you speak about food. Some folks are raised in cultures where specific meat based dishes are centralized, even if only eaten occasionally. Others live in environments where it’s much harder to locate regular, healthy non-meat based food. And finally, when it comes to Buddhism, there really isn’t “a form of diet” advocated, something the local Tibetan Buddhists blew holes in for me with their penchant for meat-eating.

    One of the challenges is that food intersects with nearly everything else when you start to look at it. And people have deeply grained attachments to food, even when they know that certain things aren’t “healthy.” Furthermore, how do we weigh, for example, the rights of chickens with the long standing cultural ties people in Louisiana have to chicken-based Creole dishes?

    I have always remained outspoken about the corporate systems of animal exploitation, and think that dismantling corporate farming and production mechanisms is an area many people – across all other lines – can get behind when they know enough of the facts. But once you start getting into individual choices, or even cultural choices around food, it gets extremely tricky.

  9. Barry Loncke "aka" Dad permalink
    June 1, 2011 1:25 pm

    Our wonderful dog Boomer died yesterday, hit by a car. We are devastated. He was a gentle creature that some cultures consider food. He is family to us. He chased thousands of those squirrels that you picture in your blog, caught 5 and promptly (after playing a little with them) let them go –none the worse for being gummed, except one that apparently died of a heart attack. I know this is not responsive to the intellectual aspects of your blog but it is from my broken heart.

  10. nathan permalink
    June 1, 2011 2:25 pm

    Sorry to hear about Boomer, Barry. And getting hit by a car – so sad.
    Take care.

  11. June 2, 2011 1:35 pm

    Papa, I am so sorry to hear about Boomer, and I wish that all non-human animals could have a life as happy as his has been with you and Mom in the last few years. He was certainly a special dog, and you two were a wonderful pair.

    Nathan, I know you addressed your last comment to Seth, but I just wanted to chime in and say that I get a little worried about discussing “long standing cultural ties” regarding Southern food, for instance, without acknowledging that “culture” is quite fluid, constrained by power dynamics, and heterogeneous. One of my favorite restaurants in Oakland, for instance, is Souley Vegan, featuring greens, macaroni and cheese, BBQ tofu, and vegan cayenne lemonade. Another favorite, in San Francisco, is a vegan Japanese restaurant called Cha-Ya. There are definitely some class issues with ‘niche’ restaurants like this being kinda pricey, but my point is that there are many people in various cultures who incorporate their own culinary legacies into vegan, vegetarian, or plant-based diets — even if their cultural legacies are very meat-based. Have you ever read the anthology Sistah Vegan, edited by Breeze Harper? You might be interested in checking some of her stuff out — a lot is available online, as well as various resources for vegan people of color. I hear you that we should definitely avoid a condescending imposition onto people’s cultural traditions, but I don’t think that means we can’t engage critically with our own and others’ traditions, in a respectful way, aware of the judgments we carry and the larger systems constraining us all.

  12. nathan permalink
    June 4, 2011 4:49 pm

    Katie,

    I think that’s a fair point – it’s very true that culture is fluid, and that power dynamics play a role in maintaining many elements in place which may or may not be beneficial. And I obviously think that engaging critically with anything is a super important part of being alive, and moving beyond simply acting out of habit, norms, or comfort.

    What’s interesting about this discussion is that it reminds of the endless hazing I received from meat-eating family members the first few years I was vegetarian. It took a long time for some of them to get it that I was serious, and that perhaps there was some good reasons behind some of my statements about meat. For a little while, comments I made somehow led to most of the family boycotting Walmart. That boycott didn’t last terribly long, and it was only partly related to food, but I think what I remember most about those years is how clear it became to me how gut level food is for people. It hurt me to experience the harassment. It hurt them to hear my rants about factory farms. And everyone was a bit on edge getting together for meals because of perceived judgments that may or may not have been occurring.

    What’s also interesting is that it was during those same years that I met the most difficult vegans I have even been around. It didn’t occur to me until much later that the ranting they did about cheese, honey, and a few other things that grated on my nerves, was no different, really, than the ranting I did about factory farming.

    One of the challenges with all of this, I think, is the way so many of us identify at a core level with certain foods, or ways of eating. Every ounce of hurt I felt was due to my identifying with being vegetarian. And that identifying made it next to impossible to remain fluid enough within any situation to discover the places where a critical opening for discussion might occur. It really has only been since I stopped hanging so tightly to “vegetarian” that I’ve been able to actually present some of the compelling reasons for people eating (at the very least) a lot less meat, or none at all, and actually have other people interested in hearing more.

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